postupano | Arlington VA | 03/01/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"When I first noticed this set I was a bit miffed at Ponto for not issuing separate two-disc sets so that those who wanted to hear Crespin's Tosca but not necessarily Vishnevskaya's and vice versa were forced into buying both. Fortunately, both complete performances of "Tosca" have strong credentials.
As of this writing Amazon shows no pictures of the CD covers, so the exact contents of this 4-disc box may need clarification. What is offered are two complete live performances of "Tosca;" the first is from the Teatro Colon in 1965 featuring Crespin, Di Stefano and Taddei conducted by Bartoletti.The second is from the Bolshoi in 1971 with Vishnevskaya, Virgilius Noreika (Cavaradossi) and Vladimir Valaitis (Scarpia)conducted by Ermler and is sung in Russian. In addition there are 33 minutes of a 1962 Teatro Colon "Tosca" with Crespin and Taddei conducted by Cillario, this time with Gianni Raimondi as Cavaradossi: this features the Tosca/Cavaradossi duet from Act 1, "Vissi d'arte" from Act 2, and most of Act 3 from "E lucevan le stelle" to the end. The Russian "Tosca" is filled out by 32 minutes of excerpts from Act 1,Scene 2 and Act 3, Scene 2 from a 1967 "Queen of Spades" featuring Vishnevskaya (Liza) and Zurab Andzhaparidze (Ghermann) with unspecified chorus and orchestra under Khaikin,venue given as Montreal. I assume it's from the appearances the Bolshoi made in Canada for Expo 67.
My principal interest in this set was for the Bolshoi "Tosca," since I have enjoyed Ponto's releases of Vishnevskaya's Russian-language performances of "Aida" and "Otello" (see my reviews). Of course, if you're only in the market for one recording of "Tosca," you'll want a standard Italian-language version like the legendary Callas/DeSabata on EMI. This Bolshoi recording does not find Vishnevskaya in her best form; her tone here often has that hooded quality I associate with her Russian repertoire and while the dramatic side of her performance is thrilling, I suspect that fans in search of her best Tosca would be better off with her commercial DGG recording in Italian. That said, the performance has a lot going for it. This is a real smell-the-greasepaint theatrical experience which must have been exciting in the hall. Ermler's conducting sounds like he and the orchestra are really involved. Lithuanian tenor Virgilius Noreika's Cavaradossi is excellent; it's too bad there isn't more of his work available on CD, and it's a real shame that his picture is misidentified as Valaitis in the booklet. Valaitis does a fine job as a standard-issue Scarpia and the Russian text gives the whole thing a fun-house mirror effect, with Angelotti and Sciarrone booming in echt-Mussorgskian tones. Sound is very decent; there's a lot of stage-business clunking and chain-rattling and the prompter is very active if that sort of thing bothers you.
The "Queen of Spades" excerpts are serviceable, but not exceptional. The voices sound distant, as if the recording were made from the audience. There are commercial recordings of Vishnevskaya and Andzhaparidze in these roles.
According to the included notes, the Teatro Colon was one of Crespin's favorite venues and one can hear why as the audience is extremely demonstrative. Crespin is in better voice for the 1965 complete performance but the 1962 is fine too; I am not aware of any studio recordings of her Tosca, but her fans should be grateful for these exciting live performances. Di Stefano and Raimondi are both Cavaradossis of distinction.
The booklet features complete track listings, notes on the opera's background and information about Crespin, Di Stefano, Taddei and Vishnevskaya."