PUCCINI: Tosca
Maria Callas (Floria Tosca); Giuseppe di Stefano (Mario Cavaradossi); Tito Gobbi (Baron Scarpia); Franco Calabrese (Cesare Angelotti); Angelo Mercuriali (Spoletta); Melchiorre Luise (Sacristan); Dario Caselli (Sciarrone/Gaoler); Alvaro Cordova (Shepherd); Chorus and Orchestra Teatro ala Scala, Milan/Victor de Sabata, cond.
NAXOS 8.110256/57 (2 CDs) (B) (ADD) TT: 42:35 & 65:56
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BELLINI: I Puritani
Maria Callas (Elvira); Giuseppe di Stefano (Arturo); Rolando Panerai (Riccardo); Nicola Rossi-Lemeni (Giorgio); Angelo Mercuriali (Bruno); Carlo Forti (Gualtiero Valton); Aurora Cattelani (Enrichetta); Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Tullio Serafin, cond.
NAXOS 8.110259/60 (2 CDs) (B) (ADD) TT: 69:00 73:19
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"The First Opera Recordings" (1895-1902 - A Survey - Part II)
SYMPOSIUM 1320 (F) (ADD) TT: 79:39
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Collectors will welcome these Naxos reissues of two of the most famous recordings by Maria Callas, I Puritani recorded in March/April 1953 and Tosca recorded a few months later. Both of these have been reissued many times and each time attracted new purchasers intrigued by the mystique—and artistry— of Callas. Robert E. Seletsky, author of Callas at EMI: Remastering and Perception which appeared in the Spring 2000 The Opera Quarterly, writes at length about the different releases of this recording of Tosca critically pointing out problems in pitch and editing that exist in all releases including the most recent version, in EMI's Great Recordings of the Century series in which the pitch was too slow. Mark Obert-Thorn, who did both of these remasterings, says he used ten copies of the original LP release of Tosca, eight copies of the original LP release of Puritani, eliminating most of the electronic clicks heard on CD editions and correcting pitch discrepancies. The Tosca performance is legendary, the Puritani an example of Callas in her prime singing Bellini, vocally a bit flawed, but interpretively unmatched. There is no libretto, but a track by track description of action. These sets cannot be sold in the United States.

The Symposium CD is the second of two volumes marking the centenary of first recordings of Enrico Caruso which were made in Milan April 11, 1902. On this CD we have recordings made 1901-1902 by singers who were contemporaries of the famed tenor, when 10" disks first appeared, paper labels were introduced, wax replaced zinc as the medium of recording and electrolytic duplication of stampers produced superior pressings—Caruso's first recordings reflected these improvements. Symposium's CD contains 21 tracks from 7" disks, 12 from the new 10" disks. Some of these are extremely rare and producers found it necessary to use copies that were not in pristine condition. The singers are Wladislaw Florianski (1856-1911), Adamo Didur (1874-1945), Wiktor Grabczewski (1863-1924), A. G. Eremtzeva (no dates given), Teodor Borkowski (no dates given); Andre Labinsky (1871-1941), Fedor Davidovic Avgustov (no dates given), Alexandre Davidov (1872-1944), Anna Kruszelnicka c. 1870-?), Bice Adami (1875-1969), Elisa Bruno (no dates given), Giuseppe Oxilia (1865-1919), Maria Aleksandrovna Michailova (1864-1943), Nikolai Figner (1856-1919), Anastasia Vialzeva (1871-1913), Paul Aumonier (1874-1944), Pauline Agussol (1863-?), Louise Kirkby Lunn (1873-1930) and Primo Vitti (no dates given). Most of the singers are virtually unknown, but Didur was a bass competing with Chaliapin, Grabczewski sang Silvio in the first American performance of Pagliacci at the Met in 1893 (with Melba), Avgustv was a leading baritone in Moscow at the turn of the century, and Davidov created the title role of Sadko. This CD is a fascinating glimpse into the opera world of a century ago, well-documented, in superb transfers.

R.E.B. (February 2004)