I saw this film at the time of its first showing in the U.S.A. in 1957, and thought it was a quite excellent film representation of one of the most accessible of all operas, both for opera lovers and film-goers in general. Nothing in the ensuing half-century has caused me to alter my opinion. TOSCA is a fairly claustrophobic opera for the screen - no big scenes, no marches, etc. (unless one counts the first act Te Deum) -it's effectiveness is therefore borne entirely in its three leading characters' delineations by the vocal interpreters and/or actors involved, and in the conveyance of those delineations by the film's director. Director Gallone succeeds admirably here.
For all practical purposes, this was the film that introduced Franco Corelli to the world outside Italy, where he was just starting to enjoy tremendous success. He is the only one of the three leads to physically appear in the film and no wonder, as he was about the handsomest male opera star of his time, if not of all time, and this fact did play more than a little role in his worldwide success. Franca Duval, the Tosca, was also a singer, but she is used here only for her acting ability and lovely appearance, the role actually being sung by the great Maria Caniglia, who had been arguably the leading Italian spinto soprano of her time, and was still singing very well indeed (not to mention vocally acting up a storm at all times) after a full quarter-century on the world's opera stages. The actor physically portraying the villainous Scarpia, Afro Poli, was also a star Italian baritone, but the singing here is provided by the gargantuan-voiced Giangiacomo Guelfi (who, like Corelli, was also being brought to the world's attention via this film). Poli must have had the least ego of any Italian singer of his day as, having also been an opera star for a quarter-century and still going strong, he appeared at least three times in Italian opera films solely as an actor, with his voice being dubbed in, as here, by other famous singers. Anyhow, his is a truly superb presence (the best in the film) for he is naturally gifted with what some call "an actor's face", and he carries off his assignment with panache.
The whole film is beautiful to look at, dramatically involving to view, and thrilling to hear. What else can a movie-loving opera maven ask for?
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