Tosca -- Many might recall that back in 1992 a filmed version of Puccini’s "Tosca" was shown on Public Television. It starred Placido Domingo (Cavaradossi), Catherine Malfitano (Tosca) and Ruggero Raimondi (Scarpia), and was conducted by Zubin Mehta. It is now available on DVD and Blu-ray Kultur discs and a good buy all told.
The most interesting feature is that the action was filmed not only in the actual locations in Rome but even at the same time of day indicated in the libretto. So Act I takes place in the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle at just before noon, Act II in a room in the Farnese Palace in the evening and Act III on the battlements of the Castel Sant’Angelo at dawn the following day.
This allows, especially in Act I, some spectacular camera placements. Among the best is a low shot of Scarpia framed by an arch behind him as the procession of soldiers and churchmen file around and past him. This emphasizes the contrast between his lust and the religious ceremony taking place around him in a way impossible in any actual staging in a theater.
Domingo is as always sincere and his voice is just right for the character, such as it is -- not very complicated but deeply in love with both Tosca and Italy. Raimondi actually gets to smile here -- remember his somber-faced Don Giovanni in the film version? -- albeit lasciviously. He even manages to get one bite of his supper, using the very knife that will play a role later on.
Malfitano’s performance is now and then overdone, while the camera is not kind to her heavily made up face. Perhaps that is the fault of director Giuseppe Patroni Griffi. There are plenty of Toscas on video with which to make comparisons. The male stars’ singing is of a high order, but Malfitano has a few rough moments. However, I must point out that she never played this role before, so let us be fair.
In the smaller roles, Mauro Buffoli gives a slimy-voiced Spoletta; while Giorgio Gatti plays, for once, a noncomic Sacristan. There are two other breaks from tradition. Tosca sings her "Vissi d’arte" on her feet (not spread out on the floor) and Cavaradossi never gets to write the letter he usually pens during his great Act III aria.
The running time of the disc as a whole is 114 minutes, the picture is in 4:3 full screen ration, and the subtitles are in four languages, including Italian.
Henry Burr -- Those who have been following my reports on Archeophone releases know that they are dedicated to transferring acoustic (pre-electric) cylinders and discs to CDs. Some collections are devoted to a single time period, some to a single year, some to orchestral and/or vocal groups, some to single singers. Among the latter are Bert Williams, Nora Bayes, Sophie Tucker and Henry Burr.
I am quite sure that the last name means little, even to those familiar with the great names of the vaudeville stage. This will be no longer the case after hearing, "Henry Burr Anthology: the Original King of Pop."
This Canadian-born baritone turned out about 5,000 recordings for over 100 labels; and this disc provides 27 examples, recorded from 1903 to 1928. Along the way are favorites such as "Silver Threads Among the Gold," "In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree," "Shine on, Harvest Moon," "I Wonder Who’s Kissing her Now" and "My Buddy." To many listeners, the unfamiliar pieces will prove even more fascinating.
Of special interest are the tracks on which Burr is joined by Frank Stanley, Ada Jones, Billy Murray and other vaudeville notables. Vocal teachers and choral groups will be fascinated with the style of singing in vogue back then, while social studies teachers might do worse than to integrate samples from this CD into lessons about American society during those 25 years.
As always with Archeophone, the accompanying booklet is jammed with information and pictures about the period, its stars, and of course Henry Burr -- and as always, it is alone worth the price of the set.
Frank Behrens reports on classical and Broadway music as well as recordings of books and plays for the Arts & Entertainment section.