It’s amazing what modern technology can achieve. A case in point is the amazing advances which have been made in re-mastering old recordings. At the forefront of this development is Pristine Classics, an outfit which specialises in re-mastering from best available sources. Its most recent offering is a recording of Tosca — not any old Tosca, but the Tosca which began Renata Tebaldi’s debut season at Covent Garden in 1955.
From the Pristine site:
When the BBC began broadcasting FM radio on the VHF band on 2nd May 1955 in the south-east of England, it’s unlikely that many people tuned in on the first night. Indeed, it’s unlikely that many people had the necessary equipment to do so. The incentives might have appeared slender: the same three radio stations, the same mono sound, but a bit clearer and with more treble. Outside of a certain enthusiast market I doubt many people rushed out to buy new radio sets for the occasion.
Which may explain why the present recording came about as it did. Although our copy came via a 1/4″ open-reel tape dub, it’s without a doubt the case that the original recording was made onto 33rpm acetate discs in a recording studio hired for the task of capturing Tebaldi’s Covent Garden Tosca from the BBC’s live FM broadcast of 30 June, 1955, less than two months after the transmitter was switched on.
As with other BBC recordings of the era the precise origins of the recording, who made it, for whom, and where it went to over the years, are entirely unknown. But here it is – a copy has surfaced and found itself directed to me, and although the performance is available as a CD already, the sonic leap forward offered by this higher quality source made it irresistible. This remarkable new find has proved to be immeasurably superior in sound quality to the previously issued recording, with a full, realistic, clear and vibrant sound almost throughout. Magnificent!
If you already have this on CD you’ll want to jettison the previous disc. If you don’t, maybe because you couldn’t bear the shrill, hard, thin and constricted sound, then listen again. It’s a Tosca and a half, and is definitely one you’ll want to hear right now.
So, here’s a sound file of highlights. Renata Tebaldi is Tosca (obviously), with Tito Gobbi as Scarpia. Ferruccio Tagliavini is Cavaradossi, though I don’t think we hear him in the excerpts. The Orchestra and Chrous of the ROH are conducted by Francesco Molinari-Pradelli.