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GIACOMO PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Arde in Tosca un folle amor!
In Tosca there blazes a wild love
Tosca, Act I
There are few operas in which the prima donna actually portrays an opera singer on stage; Offenbachs Tales of Hoffmann is one and JanáÇeks Makropoulos Case another, but Tosca is far and away the best known of such rôles and it is around the passionate drama of her life that Puccinis plot revolves. Her jealous love for Cavaradossi and Scarpias fatal lust for her are what make this one of the most melodramatic and colourful of all nineteenth century operas.
It is natural to say Puccinis plot, but that is to ignore Victorien Sardou (1831-1908), on whose play of 1887, La Tosca, Puccinis librettists based their text; it was a major feat of adaptation. Sardous original stretched to five acts and had a cast of 23, whilst the opera as completed was reduced to three acts with ten characters. Puccini felt the libretto was a distinct improvement on the play (as well he might) and he certainly understood the necessity of finding a soprano with the right personality and stage presence (let alone voice) to sing the title rôle at the première; what was needed was the operatic equivalent of Sarah Bernhardt, who had taken the part when Puccini first saw the play performed in 1895. The choice of prima donna fell upon Romanian soprano Hariclea DArclee who, during her successful career, had already sung in the world premières of Catalanis La Wally and Mascagnis Iris. Emilio de Marchi was Cavaradossi, Eugenio Giraldoni sang Scarpia and the glittering first performance in Rome was graced by the presence of Queen Margherita of Italy. To the composers chagrin, the première was not greeted with universal enthusiasm (the torture scene in Act 2 being found particularly objectionable), but before many months had passed the opera was presented in several other Italian cities and its popularity grew apace. It was first seen at Covent Garden in June 1900 and in February 1901 at the Metropolitan Opera, New York.
The curious drama that surrounded the making of this historic set of records bears repetition. HMVs original choice of soprano was Iva Pacetti (1898-1981), as Tosca had for some years been one of her most successful stage rôles. The story goes that, shortly after starting the recording session, Pacetti was taken ill and felt unable to carry on. She had already recorded six sides from the first act (two takes of each) but it was clearly impossible to use one soprano in act 1 and another in acts 2 and 3. Not a moment could be lost, with a cast of singers and a large orchestra simply waiting to continue, and Tosca without a leading lady is at a disadvantage. Maria Caniglias name was mentioned as a possible substitute, she was found to be available and, within an hour of one ladys departure, the other had arrived, ready to repeat those sections already recorded by Pacetti with her colleagues Gigli and Borgioli and, in due course, to finish the entire opera. Fortunately none of this off-stage tension is discernible on the completed set for, if anything, Caniglia was a finer Tosca than Pacetti and during the following eight years she went on to record further operas with Gigli as her tenor partner. If hers is a performance stronger on temperament and passion than on vocal perfection, then so be it; other Toscas before and since have similarly succeeded in the rôle without being endowed with truly beautiful voices but, like her, they have created a vivid interpretation that is touching, amorous and vengeful by turns. As Scarpia, Armando Borgioli offers an appropriately threatening performance. Although well known during his lifetime, he has been largely forgotten by later generations, probably because of his modest recorded legacy. A complete Aida and this Tosca are the principal extant examples of his singing but, had he survived the war, he might well have extended his international career and achieved greater fame. However, as with his other complete recordings, it is Gigli who dominates. He had been singing the rôle of Cavaradossi for many years before this set was made; it featured in his first season at the Met in 1920, and in his first at Covent Garden in 1930. He recorded the two celebrated arias on both acoustic and electric 78s and poured into Puccinis melodies that unique golden tone for which he was so much admired. In every scene of the opera Gigli brings a humanity to Cavaradossi, the result of his familiarity with the rôle and his love of the music.
E muoio disperato! E non ho amato mai tanto la vita!
I die a desperate man, and never have I so loved life!
Tosca, Act 3
Tosca was first performed on 14th January 1900 at the Teatro Costanzi, Rome.
Beniamino Gigli was born in Recanati, Italy in 1890 and in 1914 made his début in Rovigo in La Gioconda. He soon sang throughout Italy and, from 1919, in South America; 1920 saw his phenomenal début as Faust in Mefistofele at the Met, where he stayed for twelve seasons. First heard at Covent Garden in 1930 in Andrea Chénier, he returned both before and after the war, and sang in many European cities in opera and concert. At his best in Verdi and Puccini, his golden tone made him universally popular throughout the world. Gigli died in Rome in 1957.
Born in 1905, the Neapolitan soprano Maria Caniglia made her début at the age of 25. She then sang regularly at La Scala, including Ballo in maschera in 1941, her final performances there being in 1951. Caniglia appeared at the Metropolitan in 1938/9 and at Covent Garden before the war and during the 1950 La Scala visit. She created rôles in contemporary operas, but was best heard in nineteenth century lyric/dramatic Italian repertory and verismo. Her recordings, including complete performances of Tosca, Aida and Don Carlos, show a rich, dramatic voice, occasionally imperfect in intonation but undeniably exciting. Caniglia died in 1979.
Armando Borgioli was born in 1898, a native of Florence. His début in 1923 was followed by success at Milans Teatro Carcano in 1925 as Amonasro, and from 1927 he sang regularly at La Scala. He appeared at Covent Garden for several seasons from 1927, and between 1931 and 1935 at the Metropolitan Opera, New York; equally popular on his South American visits as in Italy, and singing principally Italian nineteenth century and verismo rôles, Borgioli occasionally ventured into other repertory, including Telramund (with Gigli as Lohengrin) in 1926. Borgioli died in 1945 during a bombing raid near Modena.
Oliviero de Fabritiis was born in 1902 in Rome, where he also studied at the Conservatory. He made his début at the Adriano Theatre there in 1920 and subsequently conducted extensively throughout Italy. Appointed Artistic Secretary of the Teatro dellOpera, and conducting several notable premières, in 1938 he led the opening season of opera at Romes Caracalla Baths. De Fabritiis made his Covent Garden début in 1965 and in 1971 was appointed Artistic Director of the Vienna Festival. He was an imaginative and expressive maestro, well represented by complete operas on record. De Fabritiis died in Rome in 1982.
1 The opera opens in the Church of SantAndrea della Valle in Rome. On the right is the Attavanti Chapel and on the left a scaffold wi