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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 7, No. 6

A Manic for Tosca

by Wah Keung Chan / March 1, 2002

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Noel Spinelli with favourite Toscas. Photo: Russell Proulx

"It all started as a joke," said Noel Spinelli of his collection of 124 different recordings of Puccini's Tosca. "Robert Savoie told me he had sung the role of Scarpia and the Sacristan. I said I was going to learn all the roles and just for my curiosity, I wanted to see how many recordings I could find. Every time I went to the Metropolitan Opera or La Scala, I would find some more in their souvenir shop. When I got to 50, I thought that I would stop because I found them all." Spinelli's collection now includes Toscas sung in Italian, German, French, Russian and English, with most commercial recordings and about 35 live recordings, and 10 to 15 are videos on VHS or DVD. His method of cataloguing is by the name of the soprano who sings Tosca. The list begins with one recording with Licia Albanese, 7 recordings of Callas with 5 different tenors and 11 of Tebaldi with many different tenors. "I like a lot of the live performances with all of their qualities and their faults."

What are his favourites?

"I would choose the 1953 EMI Recording with Callas, Di Stefano and Gobbi. This recording is generally acclaimed by the critics as the benchmark and I have to agree. Although Callas is not my favourite voice, she is my favourite Tosca. The colour of Callas's voice; that is what I imagine Tosca looking and sounding like. Usually I prefer Tebaldi, but I don't get as excited about her Tosca. Di Stefano is a wonderful Cavaradossi and Tito Gobbi is a fantastic Scarpia. De Sabata is the best conductor. He has an amazing understanding of the score. That's what it should sound like. It's a feeling."

Others of interest

  • "The oldest one I have is the 1929 VAI recording with Carmen Melis as Tosca, Piero Pauli as Cavaradossi and Granforte as Scarpia, and the La Scala orchestra. Because of the age, it is interesting."
  • "The 1938 recording at Rome Opera House, RCA Victor, Caniglia as Tosca."
  • "I recently received the recording of Corelli singing in Tosca in Parma live on January 21, 1967. This is a crazy, crazy recording. Corelli singing beyond reason to a crowd that is totally insane, I don't think there is a living conductor that would allow this kind of singing. Corelli almost sings ad lib."

On Video:

"The DVD of the 1985 Met telecast of the Zefferelli production with Domingo, Behrens and Cornell MacNeil, and Giuseppe Sinopoli conducting. It's a must. The singing is first rate. It's also available on VHS."

Noel Spinelli is Chairman of the Board of Groupe Spinelli and a patron of the arts.

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