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Is This the Best Opera Recording Ever?
Exploring resources that help us understand the magic of Maria Callas in Tosca
The recent New York Times piece on the best opera recording ever reads as a love letter to Maria Callas in Tosca. Music critic Anthony Tommasini describes the fragility and intrigue Callas creates with her opening words, noting the “fleeting episode, only a few seconds long, is one of the countless indelible moments” to be found on this album. From there, Tommasini leads the way through highlights of the recording, providing readers a taste of why this opera elicits such a passionate response from classical music aficionados.
It sparked our curiosity to know more.
Fortunately, whether you are an opera novice seeking a deeper introduction to the genre, or a music scholar doing in-depth research, there is an abundance of multimedia content available to inspire a fuller appreciation and understanding of Maria Callas’s Tosca. But with such a bounty of video, audio recordings and text spanning biographical information, reviews and historical context, the biggest challenge in seeking more information is deciding where to get started.
This is what makes the Open Music Library such an amazing resource. Whether you begin by listening to this recording of Tosca in its entirety, watching Callas in one of her many iconic performances, or reading about what inspired the composer, these resources can fit together in an endless combination of ways to inspire a unique research journey.
What is Tosca?
For researchers beginning on the OML Tosca page, there is a brief overview of the opera, including the composer (Giacomo Puccini), its setting (Rome, 1800 during Napoleon’s invasion of Italy), characteristics (“It contains depictions of torture, murder and suicide, as well as some of Puccini's best-known lyrical arias.”) and historical context (the opera debuted in the late-romantic era and was inspired by a French-language play, La Tosca.).
From here, a researcher can follow a link to a dedicated page for Giacomo Puccini with biographical information about the composer, recordings of 59 of his works, and scores from Tosca as well as his other operas, including the beloved La Bohème and Madama Butterfly. Open Music Library includes scores and videos that are free and those that require a subscription (most on the Puccini page are free to all users) and users with access to Alexander Street’s Music and Dance Online can stream the entire collection of audio and video recordings.
Tags on the Tosca page provide even more research avenues. Clicking on the “late romantic” tag, for example, leads to 2,734 similarly tagged works, inviting researchers to explore other composers, musical selections and scores from the same era, revealing shared characteristics of the mood and style of the time, or highlighting differences that might be unique to a certain piece or composer.
Who is Maria Callas?
Starting with a search in the OML for “Maria Callas” launches the researcher in another direction.
A user can scroll through an index of 360 related articles, including reviews of reissued albums and newer compilations, as well as reviews of numerous biographies that have been written about the occasionally scandalous performer known as La Divina. Other articles explore the enduring influence and legacy of the artist hailed by many as the greatest opera singer to have ever lived.
These articles, which can be sorted according to date and publication, are cross-indexed on the ProQuest Music Periodicals Database, where they are enhanced with synopses and additional publication info. Content from select publications is available in full-text on ProQuest Central.
For more audio/visual insight, several videos provide a firsthand experience of the singer’s signature dramatic and vocal style. These include an open access video of Callas in the title role of Vincenzo Bellini’s tragedy Norma, available in its entirety. Researchers might supplement their viewing with reviews written of various recordings of Callas in Norma from throughout her career or by listening to various recordings of her performing a multitude of other works – a whopping 363 albums featuring Callas are catalogued in the OML and available for streaming from Alexander Street.
Such analysis can provide an understanding of how the artist evolved and matured over the decades, demonstrate the chemistry between Callas and other performers, or even expose different techniques for recording opera.
Tosca + Maria Callas
Researchers can initiate another avenue of research by simply listening to the album hailed by The New York Times and noting their own impressions. The Maria Callas recording of Tosca is included in the OML and available for streaming with Alexander Street Music and Dance Online.
Listening to the Callas recording, do you agree with The New York Times’ assessment? Heard in the context of other multimedia resources, how does it compare to Callas’s other audio and video performances? What does Callas bring to Tosca to make it such an exceptional album?
We think it can be the mark of an exciting research path when your journey leads you ask even more questions than you started with.
Tommasini, A. (2017, Dec 30). A '53 recording of 'tosca' soars like no other. New York Times.