It's hardly a secret that casting an opera these days is problematic: Too often pivotal roles demand voices that do not exist today. So compromises have to be made.
The same holds true in the recording studio. One might think that with the technology of microphones, sound enhancement, and so forth, small voices could be made to sound large. However, microphones do not lie. A small voice sounds like a small voice. An essentially lightweight voice cannot be disguised to sound ''larger'' by merely being closer to a microphone.
In the three operas in question here, the title role requires a very specific type of voice that still exists today. However, the recording companies do not seem to feel some of these singers are marketable commodities. So they have been denied the chance to record in favor of some star singer, even when that star lacks the fundamental requirement of the particular role.
A case in point is a recent ''Tosca'' (Angel digital DSBX-3919). Renata Scotto sings Puccini's heroine; Placido Domingo is the Cavaradossi; and Renato Bruson, the Scarpia. James Levine leads the Philharmonia Orchestra. Miss Scotto is a fine Puccini singer; in ''Boheme'' or ''Butterfly,'' she has proved incomparable. But Tosca's wide range of emotion demands a large voice capable of an unusually wide range of dynamic shifts from the very quiet pianissimo to the full-throated forte.
On this recording, Miss Scotto's penetrating, lyric soprano reveals the effects of constantly singing in heftier repertoire. Her slender voice was never meant to tackle such dramatic soprano roles as Norma, Gioconda, and Lady Macbeth. Miss Scotto can no longer swell from a pianissimo to a full-throated forte without a severe wobble disrupting the vocal gesture. The overall feeling here is one of good intentions executed with a now-virtually unmanageable instrument. Considering she is one the day's finest lyric singing-actresses, this career shift has been a lamentable decision.
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