Fri, May 23, 2003 - Page 19 News List

CD reviews

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Tosca

Andrea Bocelli, Fiorenza Cedolins, Carlo Guelfi, Zubin Mehta, Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

Philips 473 710-2

Late last year we described Andrea Bocelli's Sentimento CD as "absolutely stunning" and Bocelli as likely to be "leading the angels in heaven in resplendent tenor solos" (Taipei Times, 29 November 2002).

Unfortunately his Tosca is a major disappointment.

This opera depends above all else on its fiery drama and this is totally lacking here. The entire venture here is presumably viewed as a vehicle for Bocelli, whose innumerable fans will ensure good profits for Universal Music. But this strategy involves three things -- employing a less than stellar soprano in the title role, keeping the orchestra for the most part in the background, and recording Bocelli at louder volume than everyone else.

All of these are serious shortcomings. Bocelli's voice is exciting enough for his role, but dramatic interaction, in this of all operas, is absolutely essential.

This you don't get. Trieste-born Fiorenza Cedolins has a pretty voice, but Tosca is a jealous tiger who kills in an attempt to save her lover, and Cedolins never gets near to portraying this. Critics have expressed surprise at her being cast in leading roles at New York's Metropolitan Opera recently, and it can only be assumed she was put alongside Bocelli for these CDs so that no one matched him vocally.

This is a woeful way to go about organizing an opera recording. Moreover Puccini's music, deemed vulgar by some, is saved by its delicate and original orchestration. Recording the orchestra at half-volume for the benefit of the lead tenor is thus a particularly inappropriate strategy. Carlo Guelfi (Scarpia) is no great voice either.

The best performance is turned in by Aldebrando D'Arcangelo in the tiny role of Angelotti. Most strangely of all, Bocelli too is disappointing. His voice sounds thin except on the high notes, and for some reason he can't summon, even for his two big arias, the lyrical joy he can so readily brings to solo concert items. In essence, this Tosca utterly lacks all fire and dramatic commitment. Mehta's conducting, too, lacks passion. Tension fails to build and pathos is non-existent. Even "Vissi d'arte" comes cold and out of the blue rather than as a result of intolerable pressure as it should.

In fact, this Tosca stumbles at all the great moments and is destined to be written off as a lame effort unable to begin to compete with the many established classic recordings.

The libretto is included on the "enhanced CD" second disc, but Philips have wisely also included a printed version (in Italian and English only).

These CDs have for some reason -- possibly their dubious quality -- been held back for two years since the 2001 recording sessions, just as Bocelli's "Boheme" (again conducted by Mehta and less than enthusiastically received) was released only in 2001 after being recorded in 1999.

Pletnev/Rostropovich

Mikhail Pletnev, piano, Russian National Orchestra, conductor: Mstislav Rostropovich

Rachmaninov, Piano Concerto No:3 and Prokofiev, Piano Concerto No: 3,Deutsche Grammophon 471 576-2

The Russian pianist Mikhail Pletnev was due to perform in Taiwan but the concert was canceled following the SARS outbreak. This CD was already prepared for release on the local market, however, so here it is in, as it were, its own right.

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