Tosca  (Adler;  Leontyne Price, Franco Corelli, Cornell MacNeil)  (2-St Laurent Studio T-681)
Item# OP3252
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Product Description

Tosca  (Adler;  Leontyne Price, Franco Corelli, Cornell MacNeil)  (2-St Laurent Studio T-681)
OP3252. TOSCA, Live Performance, 7 April, 1962, w.Kurt Adler Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Leontyne Price, Franco Corelli, Cornell MacNeil, Ezio Flagello, etc. (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio T-681. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.


"It is a weird feeling to review a performance that I attended 56 years ago. Among other things, one wonders if one's memory of the performance will be verified or contradicted when hearing it again. My memory is of a phenomenal performance, and for the most part that impression holds up. Perhaps at the time (at age 20) I didn't quite realize how routine Kurt Adler's conducting was, but it really didn't matter then, and it hardly matters now. Adler doesn't do anything wrong, the stage-pit ensemble is actually fairly tight, and if he doesn't add anything imaginative or particularly thrilling to the overall impact, he doesn't subtract from it either. He knows how the music goes, and keeps it moving along at a theatrical pace. More positively, Adler listens well to his singers.

The singing, on the other hand, is utterly remarkable. Since Cavaradossi enters first, let me begin with Franco Corelli. The tenor had been singing for well over a decade when he made his Met debut in 1961 at the age of 40. Here, one year later, he was still in his vocal prime. The first attraction in any Corelli performance is the voice itself. Solid and evenly produced from bottom to top, with no audible seams between registers. The middle and lower parts of the voice are dark and richly colored. The top is stunningly brilliant, and never thins out or turns hard. It is a once-in-a-generation kind of voice if your generation is lucky, and in the four decades since his retirement in 1976 we have had nothing like it for visceral power. Some critics complained because Corelli would hold high notes well beyond their value in the score. But if we listen to singers from the past whose careers overlapped with the great Italian opera composers, and who often worked with them, we can easily conclude that the composers expected it. (A recording of an aria from Francesco Cilea’s ADRIANA LECOUVREUR by tenor Fernando de Lucia, with the composer accompanying at the piano, exposes liberties that go far beyond anything Corelli ever did, and Cilea echoes those 'distortions' at the keyboard.)

For those who believe Corelli blasted everything, this performance is proof to the contrary. He beautifully floats the second syllable of 'colori' in the introduction to Cavaradossi's first aria, 'Dammi i colori', and uses a full range of dynamics, including mezzo forte and mezzo piano throughout the aria. Does he hold the final note beyond its written value? Yes. Is it exciting? You bet! Corelli also holds the second declamation of 'Vittoria!' in Act II until you fear he might explode. To me, it is dramatically and musically apt and defines the word 'thrilling'. What may surprise some is the sensitivity Corelli displays in the first act duet with Tosca and in the third act, beginning with 'E lucevan le stelle'. All the way through to the final duet. 'O dolci mani', is uniquely tender and beautiful. This is a Cavaradossi for the ages.

Leontyne Price is every bit his equal. Although she made two wonderful studio recordings of TOSCA, neither can match the electricity and spontaneity found in this live broadcast. The beauty and purity of the voice, particularly the singular glow of Price's upper register and the ease with which she can float it, are qualities that made her a superstar. Here, at 35, she is in her youthful prime (roughly contemporaneous with her Karajan recording, which many love but some find a bit fussy and weighty). The B-flat in 'Vissi d'arte' is pure gold, and the floated pianissimi after it will melt you. The high C at 'Io quello lama' is hit dead center and with no sense of strain. One does not feel that it is the limit of her upper range, as is the case with most Toscas. Price was an excellent vocal actress, and her fatal confrontation with Scarpia is believable and dramatically vivid. She does not have at her disposal the huge range of vocal colors available to Callas, nor does she have Callas' ability to inflect and shape with astonishing subtlety, but this is by no means a dramatically neutral or vocally centered Tosca.

Cornell MacNeil was also in his prime (not quite 40 at the time of this performance). During much of his career the American baritone was under-appreciated because he did not quite have the almost unprecedented vocal splendor of Leonard Warren (ten years MacNeil's senior). Yet MacNeil actually possessed an almost ideal Italian baritone - rich, big, warm but capable of turning biting when the role required it. Again, he might not have at his disposal the unique ability to inflect every phrase with subtle inner meaning, the way Gobbi could, but MacNeil's Scarpia here is menacing powerful, and memorable.

With secondary roles taken by great Met stalwarts (Ezio Flagello's Sacristan and Paul Franke's Spoletta are particularly successful), the entire performance leaps from the speakers with musical and dramatic force. St. Laurent Studios' transfer is, as usual for them, superb. I compared it with the Sony version released with cooperation from the Met and find the sound here a bit richer and more natural. I would not say the difference is great enough to warrant a replacement, but if you don't have this live Met account in your collection, this new release is the way to get it (available at As is St. Laurent's custom, there are no notes but [there is] a complete cast and track listening; they also wisely made the disc change between Acts I and II. It goes without saying that the celebrated Callas/Di Stefano/Gobbi/de Sabata TOSCA from EMI is one of the phonograph industry's classics, a performance that has held its own against competition for more than a half-century. I wouldn't be without it. But if I were to nominate a TOSCA recording as the best sung version, it would be this one. I am delighted to have my memory of the performance confirmed and just as delighted to be around to experience it again and again."

- Henry Fogel, FANFARE

"Wonderful singing plays a prominent role from the start in this recording. Judging from the amount of audience laughter, Ezio Flagello was a hilarious Sacristan, but his vocal antics are kept to a dignified minimum, proving that it is possible to do a character role justice while singing it beautifully. When Flagello is joined by Corelli, one is in danger of whiplash, as the listener's head turns toward the speaker in disbelief. Could it really have been this gorgeous? At that point in his career, yes. The high B-flat capping 'Recondita armonia' was one of those notes you never forget. But what may have been forgotten is the beauty and sensuality of the tricky opening phrases of the aria, sitting right on the passaggio. For all Corelli's stunts in this role - over-long held high notes (thank heaven!), the (appropriately) grand-standing 'Vittoria!' of Act II, the trademark endless diminuendo in 'E lucevan le stelle' (here with a tiny glitch as it passes from chest voice to head tone) - he also manages to present Cavaradossi as a vital human being, not just a tenor having a field day. In 1962, although already a bundle of nerves onstage, Corelli was still in spontaneous vocal form, and while the lack of video here misses his good looks, it also misses his tendency to fidget when under pressure. For his performance alone, this would be a recording worth releasing.

It's also a treat to have Cornell MacNeil's Scarpia documented in his prime. In 1962, the tone was mellifluous, the delivery easy and lyrical, although one doesn't always get the impressive volume heard in the house on this recording. MacNeil was one of the great postwar American baritones.

For a Verdi soprano, the parlando sections of the role of Tosca, particularly in Act I, can be quite tricky. [Price's] legato was breathtaking; her crystalline high notes not the standard stuff of Tosca's Act II outbursts. But though the onstage Price may not have been a match for some Met Toscas of the era - Callas, Rysanek, Albanese, etc. - the recorded Price is surprising. Her grasp of the requirements for the dialogue-driven Act I duet with Cavaradossi is admirable for a soprano with her vocal equipment. She works hard at tonal coloration and expression, and she succeeds wonderfully. In more lyrical passages, as expected, her singing is simply ravishing. Not only is 'Vissi d'arte' spun out in long phrases of great beauty and passion, so is Tosca's 'Ed io venivo' at the end of her Act I duet with Scarpia. And Price caps the Act III description of the murder of Scarpia with a long, incredibly stunning high C, followed by a gutsy plunge into chest voice. One must credit conductor Kurt Adler for the fact that the murder itself is neatly dispatched, rather than the disorganized musical mess it can be in live performance; Adler leads a well-paced performance in general.

In addition to Flagello, the supporting cast is comprised of familiar Met names of the period, all perfectly suited to their roles. Especially fine is the Spoletta of Paul Franke. The digitally remastered sound quality is quite good. This is a TOSCA not only to remember but to own."

- Ira Siff, OPERA NEWS, May, 2011

"Two complete commercial recordings of TOSCA attest to Price's prowess in the role, but the [above] broadcast will be prized as a rare 'live' performance from early in her career. Her vocal health is immediately confirmed in the love duet, and that state of well being would remain constant for the next quarter century and beyond. [Corelli's] vocal massage is a treat for any who love tenorizing on a grand scale. His wonderfully flamboyant reading provokes a major ovation. Whatever else Corelli offers, he does have plenty of heart. The duet demonstrates incontestably that Price and Corelli are vocal deities who belong in an Italian Valhalla. In size and technical security, MacNeil's instrument is the equal of his cohorts, and its opulence arouses similar admiration. He is in magnificent vocal form. On this broadcast of vocal giants, the leading trio is augmented by Flagello's rolling bass."

- Paul Jackson, SIGN-OFF FOR THE OLD MET, pp.433-35

"A pure baritone with power from low to high notes, Cornell MacNeil was considered the equal of Leonard Warren and Robert Merrill, the other stellar American Verdi baritones during the second half of the 20th century. From 1959 to 1987, he sang 26 roles in more than 600 appearances at the Metropolitan Opera alone. But he reached his peak in his Verdi performances. 'The larger and more complex the part, the better he was', James Levine, the Met's longtime conductor, said of Mr. MacNeil's Verdi roles in a 2007 interview with Opera News. 'Boccanegra, Rigoletto, Macbeth, Nabucco, Falstaff, Iago - a lot of these parts could be said to be the most challenging and varied. He sang lots of Amonasros and Scarpias marvelously well, but those more complex ones were where he was at his best'.

Though not known as a temperamental artist, Mr. MacNeil was remembered for a spectacular public outburst when he stormed off the Parma Opera stage in Italy on 26 Dec., 1964. It happened during UN BALLO IN MASCHERA, when the Parma audience, notorious for rude displays of disapproval, hissed at the soprano Luisa Maragliano just as Mr. MacNeil was about to sing the aria 'Eri tu'. 'I was getting more and more angry as the rumbling and noise got worse', he told THE NEW YORK TIMES the following day. 'I couldn't stand it any longer. 'Basta, cretini!' I shouted and walked off the stage'. The situation grew worse in his dressing room, where the stage director warned him to return to the performance because he had his family's safety to consider. Refusing to go back onstage, Mr. MacNeil sent his wife and children to their hotel. But when he made his way to the back entrance, he was assaulted by theater employees. 'During the scuffle, I got socked on the jaw', Mr. MacNeil said, displaying a bruised chin during his TIMES interview. The following day the MacNeils fled Parma.

Cornell MacNeil - on his mother's advice, studied with the retired baritone Friedrich Schorr at the Hartt School of Music in Hartford. Before WW II ended, Mr. MacNeil joined the Radio City Music Hall Glee Club and also did backstage announcements. It was his sonorous baritone that announced the news to Radio City audiences of both the German and Japanese surrenders.

Mr. MacNeil made his opera debut when, after a brief vocal audition, the composer and director Gian Carlo Menotti immediately decided to cast him as the male lead in THE CONSUL, which opened on 1 March, 1950, at the Shubert Theater in Philadelphia. THE CONSUL, the first full-length opera composed by Menotti, won the Pulitzer Prize in music that year. Still a raw talent, Mr. MacNeil took voice lessons over the next two years while working nights at the Bulova Watch factory in Queens. In 1953 Mr. MacNeil made his New York City Opera debut, as Germont in LA TRAVIATA. Though acclaimed for his sumptuous singing in that performance, he also committed a memorable faux pas that began the occasional carping by critics about his acting abilities. In a 2007 interview with Rudolph Rauch for OPERA NEWS, Mr. MacNeil recalled making hand gestures in the aria 'Di Provenza' that didn't agree with the music, and he acknowledged he had been unaware of the meaning of the words he was singing. 'It seemed like the hand was out there for about half an hour, and it began to shake', he said. 'I finally got it back in, and I decided then I was not going to sing any more Italian operas until I really knew the language'. His Italian improved, though his acting continued to draw sporadic barbs from critics. Commenting on his performance as the villain Scarpia, the villain in a 1985 performance of TOSCA at the Metropolitan Opera, Donal Henahan of The Times wrote, 'Cornell MacNeil, the Scarpia, sang mellifluously, but his wooden acting could fool nobody into believing him a sadistic tyrant'.

In 1959 Mr. MacNeil made his debut at La Scala in Milan as Carlo in Verdi's ERNANI. 'His rich, flexible baritone soared and swelled with enormous power', TIME Magazine wrote. He impressed La Scala's manager, Antonio Ghiringhelli, enough that he offered him a contract. But Mr. MacNeil signed instead with the Met after making his debut there on 21 March, 1959 - barely two weeks after his La Scala debut - as the lead in Verdi's RIGOLETTO. He would go on to sing that role at the Met more than 100 times.

Mr. MacNeil scored numerous successes in other roles as well. Commenting on his first Met appearance as Renato in Verdi's UN BALLO IN MASCHERA on 7 March, 1962, Alan Rich wrote in THE TIMES, 'This superb American baritone may very possibly have had his finest hour'. He sang Scarpia more than 90 times at the Metropolitan following his debut in the role on 2 Nov., 1959. His final performance at the Met was in that role, on 5 Dec., 1987. He retired from the opera a year later after medical tests showed he had a possible blockage of the carotid artery.

A few years before leaving the stage, Mr. MacNeil gave a straightforward assessment of the opera world to his friend and Met colleague Jerome Hines, the well-known bass, who interviewed him for a 1982 book GREAT SINGERS ON GREAT SINGING. 'Opera is an excessive art form populated by excessive people', Mr. MacNeil said. 'We make it more excessive than necessary. Singing is really a very simple thing'."

- Jonathan Kandell, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 17 July, 2011