There is no doubt whatsoever that Callas single-handedly changed the course of opera forever and is justifiably credited for rescuing this entire art form from sinking into oblivion. I must confess I never particularly cared for Callas' sound and could never understand why so many idolized her. When I saw Callas on film, I understood. In order to have fully appreciated Callas, it was necessary to have seen her on stage for it was on stage her performance was astonishing. It has been said that the history of opera is divided into two periods: BC and AC (Before Callas and After Callas)....no argument from me on that point. She was opera's first true 'singing actress'. Having done some research on her, I have come to the conclusion that she was the most unjustly maligned, tragic, misunderstood soprano that ever lived. Anyone interested in knowing what Callas was really like, I highly recommend Franco Zeferelli's DVD, 'Callas Forever' as it portrays the true Callas to have been kind, sensitive and gentle.
That said, as I write my own review of this Tosca recording, I see angry villagers with torches gathering 'round my front door. Albeit this is a satisfying rendition of Tosca, I simply don't believe it stands up to the Karajan/Price recording. It just doesn't...and I believe those who insist that this Callas recording surpasses all others, including the Karajan/Price, are loyal, die-hard Callas fans.
De Sabata's conducting is adequate but curiously detached. Tosca is a hugely emotional, passionate work....melodrama at its very best! In order to do real justice to this opera, a conductor must reach down into the depths of the soul to express anger, lust, passion, terror, and ecstatic love. De Sabata follows the score faithfully yet one gets the distinct feeling that he conducts from the brain rather than the heart.
Callas is in full command of her voice and uses it well. Still, the Callas sound, by itself, without the advantage of her utterly captivating stage presence, lacks the round, full, luscious tones of Price.
Di Stefano, who also sings in the Karajan/Price version, delivers a beautiful, lyrical Cavaradossi. He was older when he sang the Karajan/Price and has been criticized for sounding 'pushed'. This may be true, but I find his later recording to be dramatically more satisfying due to the fact Cavaradossi is under more stress than any other operatic tenor. Furthermore, in this Sabata interpretation, the 'Vittoria, Vittoria!' is cut short!!! His Act III E Lucevan le Stelle is meltingly beautiful, but when one stops to consider that he just spent the night with his head in vice, gushing blood all over....'meltingly beautiful' just doesn't seem to fit. For my money, on pitch, but a little pushed makes more dramatic sense.
Tito Gobbi has the perfect voice for Scarpia. His sound is nasal and menacing which makes a great villain. Gobbi's Iago is unsurpassed. On film, Gobbi does Scarpia opposite Callas and together they make a riveting team! On this recording, I find Gobbi's Scarpia to be satisfying, yet, perhaps due to De Sabata's conducting, he brings out an aristocratic side to this character which in my opinion, diminishes the essence of pure evil which defines Scarpia.
In short, for Callas aficionados, this recording is a must. For Tosca aficionados, such as myself, go with the Karajan/Price recording...you will find it far more satisfying. Now I must go address all those Callas fans outside my door holding torches.
For anyone interested, please take a look at my illustrated opera librettos here on Amazon The Fully Illustrated Libretto of Puccini's Madama Butterfly The Fully Illustrated Libretto of Ravel's L'Enfant et Les Sortileges (Librettos) The Fully Illustrated Libretto of Gian Carlo Menotti's the Medium