I recently treated myself to a holiday gift of a DVD of Tosca live from the Met on December 19th, 1978. So this is the Met where the audience applauds the entry of the principals and the sets but despite this there was magic on the stage that night.

The Cavaradossi was one Mr Luciano Pavarotti who here reminds us what a great tenor he was in his prime. His singing is lyrical, ardent but above all, Italian.  His tone is so combined with the language that it seems that he was meant to sing this music.  He is also an affecting actor: I’ve never seen a Cavaradossi in the final act who knows that Tosca is deluded and who is so aware of his impending fate.  It is a great performance.

Cornell Macneil is a Scarpia full of malice and evil.  Vocally he is superb and dramatically, the equal of the exalted levels of his colleagues, he is still a Scarpia of distinction.

James Conlon’s conducting isn’t quite electric but he runs it close in a well-paced account of the score aided by top-class playing by the Met orchestra.

The real reason for seeing this DVD though is the exceptional Tosca of the late Shirley Verrett.  Dramatically, she is the finest I have seen, eclipsing even that certain Hellenic diva who dominated the part in the mid-20th century. There is so much to admire in her portrayal, she simply ‘is’ Tosca.  The moment where she picks up the knife in the middle of act 2, the way she shouts ‘assassino’ at Scarpia, that wonderful line where she says ‘questo e il bacio di Tosca’. Her final line is absolutely thrilling and is still ringing in my ears now, too bad the production is so murky that you can’t quite make out that she is throwing herself off of the ramparts. Naturally her ‘vissi d’arte’ is exquisite. Vocally she is exceptionally fine too even if that natural refulgence that Leontyne Price brought to the role is ever so slightly missing. What La Verrett is though is a complete Tosca and perhaps the ultimate exponent of the role. I would recommend that anyone who loves this opera view this DVD, it is quite simply hors concours.

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