PUCCINI: Tosca
Franco Corelli (Mario Cavaradossi); Franca Duval (Floria Tosca-voice of Maria Caniglia); Afro Poli (Baron Scarpia-voice of Gian Giacomo Guelfi); Antonio Sacchetti (Angelotti); Rome Opera Theater Chorus and Orch/Oliviero De Fabritiis, cond.
HARDY CLASSICS HCD 4015 (color/mono) TT: 107 min.
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VERDI: Otello
Mario del Monaco (Otello); Renato Capecchi (Iago); Rosanna Carteri (Desdemona); Gino Mattera (Cassio); Athos Cesarini (Roderigo); Plinio Clabassi (Lodovico); Luisella Ciaffi (Emilia); Italian Radio and Television Chorus and Orch/Tullio Serafin, cond.
HARDY CLASSICS HCD 4004 (black and white/mono) TT: 136 min.
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SHCHEDRIN: Carmen Suite Ballet
Maya Plisetskaya (Carmen); Nikolai Fadeyechev (Don Jose); Sergei Radchenko (Escamillo); Alexander Lavrenyuk (The Magistrate); Natalya Kasatkina (Fate); Bolshoi Theater Orch/Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, cond.
VIDEO ARTISTS INTERNATIONAL DVD 4294 (color/mono) TT: 44:40 + 18:00
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'TOSCA'S KISS - A film by Daniel Schmidt
EMI CLASSICS 99785 (color/black and white/mono/stereo) TT: 84 min plus audio tracks
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This 1956 color film of Tosca is fascinating in many ways—and essential for Franco Corelli's legion of fans. It was filmed in cinemascope in Rome directed by Carmine Gallone, with cinematography by Giuseppe Rotunno, costumes by Maria De Mattels, and Renzo Rossellini as "musical consultant." The opera was recorded first, with the title role sung by Maria Caniglia, who was then at the end of her career. She had recorded the same opera with Beniamino Gigli and the same Rome Opera chorus and orchestra and conductor De Fabritiis in 1938. Actress Franca Duval appears as Tosca and she is physically a beauty and even manages to lip-sync with moderate success. Caniglia's recorded interpretation is that of a hot-blooded diva, exciting though rather squally on high notes. Duval's elegant appearance doesn't really fit the voice we hear. Afro Poli is an average Scarpia, very unsuccessful in lip-syncing the singing of Gian Giacomo Guelfi—often he isn't even close. And there is Corelli, in magnificent voice, very early in his career, two years before his successes at La Scala. His singing is glorious, and there's no question that he is the handsomest Cavaradossi ever. Even he, lip-syncing to his own recording, isn't always right on. Sets are elaborate and quite sumptuous. Color photography is good, but camera work leaves something to be desired, in particularly at the beginning of Act III. For about half of E lucevan le stelle we don't see Cavaradossi—a shaky camera instead shows the outside of the prison! Production values, as usual with Hardy Classic Videos, is disappointing. There's no list of tracks—and there aren't very many of them: four for Act I, and three each for Acts II and III. The film begins with an elaborate header pronouncing DTS and Dolby Digital Sound, all done effectively, but rather pointless—what follows is mono. Even with its inadequate presentation and many faults this video is essential for opera lovers.

Hardy Classic Video has another winner in this 1958 Italian Radio and TV film of Otello featuring Mario Del Monaco. The tenor sang the role 427 during his career and this was three years before Del Monaco made his famous recording with Renata Tebaldi, Aldo Protti and Herbert von Karajan. In this video Del Monaco is magnificent both vocally and dramatically, Renato Capecchi a sinister, strong-voiced Iago (a much better singer than actor), with Rosanna Carteri a fine Desdemona. Tullio Serafin conducts the Italian forces superbly. There's little here in the way of production values. The opening storm is depicted by waves crashing, and one can tell throughout that this was done in a studio with limited props. The opera was recorded first, then acted, and we have the usual lip-sync problems, particularly with Capecchi. The drama of the story and intensity of Del Monaco's interpretation and singing make this an essential video for those who love the opera. The black and white photography, quite dark most of the time, is generally effective; monophonic sound good enough to convey the performance. DVD notes state that at the end of the performance the tenor got up from the bed where he had strangled Desdemona while the camera was still running, as he was used to having the curtains closed by that time. But that is not seen on this video—perhaps they refilmed the ending? As usual with Hardy Classic Video, production values are minimal. There's no printed list of tracks, but they can be found on screen, and this time there are 24 of them—not enough, but more than the label usually provides. Incredibly there is no track for the beginning of the first act—it starts right after the credits. As with the above Tosca, Otello is an essential acquisition for opera collectors.

Tosca's Kiss (the title is meaningless) is a documentary film by Swiss director Daniel Schmidt about Milan's Casa di Riposo, a home for elderly opera singers built at the turn of the century by Giuseppe Verdi. At the time he was very wealthy and wanted "musicians less fortunate than I" to have a comfortable home. He funded a foundation to support Casa di Riposo, and this arrangement has worked well over the years. However, now that copyrights have expired, the foundation no longer has the income of the past, and the house is now in dire financial straits. This film, made in 1984, shows daily life of some of the retired singers currently living there at that time (they are called "inmates" in the commentary). In particular we meet the charming Italian soprano Sara Scuderi, who was born in Sicily in 1906, made her opera debut in 1925, her La Scala debut in 1936. That year she sang in the world premiere of Malipiero's Giulio Cesare at the Genoa Opera. In this film she is a delightful character and doesn't hesitate to sing—particularly Tosca—at the slightest instigation, and she still, in her late seventies, sounds remarkably good. It is remarkable how well many of the singers can perform, which many do in impromptu fashion. In one scene a group of elderly singers join to sing the Chorus of Hebrew Slaves from Nabucco. Unfortunately, producers don't always make it clear who is speaking when singers are reminiscing about past careers. Right at the beginning we hear an out-of-tune performance of the Meditation from Thais, but it isn't indicated who the violinist is. There is a very brief interview with director Schmidt who obviously loved the experience of making the film. There are "bonus audio tracks" of Scuderi HMV recordings of arias from Tosca, Andrea Chénier and La Bohème, which show what a fine soprano she was. One critic said of Tosca's Kiss, "this is one of the most insightful, life-affirming, and just plan entertaining movies ever made on the subjects of old age, music, and the capacity of art to uplift and sustain the human spirit." Village Voice called it one of the Top Ten films of 1984, and it seems to have developed a cult following.

Leading Russian ballerina Maya Plisetskaya always was intrigued by the story of Carmen and wanted to star in a new ballet on the subject. She approached Dimitri Shostakovich to write the music, but he declined. Then her husband, Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin, took on the project and completed it in a brilliant style, creating a stunning ballet utilizing Bizet's music but scored only for strings and many percussion instruments.Why the result is called "Carmen Suite" seems rather strange—Carmen Ballet would seem more appropriate. At any rate, Rodion, one of the most daring Russian composers of the past century, took these familiar themes and gave them his own distinctive, imaginative treatment. The highly successful premiere took place at the Bolshoi Ballet April 20, 1967 and this Russian color film was made two years later. Plisitskaya is perfect in this dramatic role. The ballet takes place primarily in an arena and begins with several minutes of flamenco-type clapping, an effect that occurs later as well. It's all quite exciting indeed. Sound is well-balanced monophonic. It's unfortunate this isn't stereo to better define all those percussion instruments. Collectors will remember the Rozhdestvensky/Bolshoi Ballet brilliant stereo EMI recording which is no longer available. The DVD also contains Plisetskaya's exquisite performances of The Dying Swan, excerpts from Raymonda and a Bach prelude. This is a highly entertaining DVD sure to please those who enjoy modern ballet.

R.E.B. (November 2004)

 

 

issued around 1970,