Puccini’s Tosca contains one of the most beautiful and famous tenor arias in opera – ‘E lucevan le stelle’ which takes place shortly after the start of the third and final act. The line given below (with a literal English translation) requires, for its full realization, an effect which is beyond the abilities of almost every tenor, no matter how fine, who sings it. The vocal score of this line is also below.
Mentr’io fremente le belle forme disciogliea dai veli!
While trembling I stripped the beautiful form of its veils!
The effect I’m writing about is on the word ‘disciogliea’. Note that the score contains no dynamic marking. There’s just a fermata on the A4. Listen to Enrico Caruso’s recording of the line made shortly after the opera’s premiere. He sings the A full voice and misses one of the grace notes that follow it. Caruso disciogliea.
Though Puccini didn’t mark a diminuendo on the A4, it’s obviously appropriate. I suspect he didn’t put the marking in because he knew most tenors couldn’t manage it.
But hear Miguel Fleta’s recording of the line. He takes a diminuendo on the high note reducing his sound to a barely audible, but fully supported note. He then spins the phrase to completion of the phrase with the same dazzling vocal control. This creates an emotional effect that fully realizes the score. Felta disciogliea.
Of all the tenors I have heard sing this aria, only two others were capable of this effect. Giuseppe Di Stefano was famous for his piano singing. The following excerpt is from his complete recording of the opera with Callas and Gobbi under Victor De Sabata’s direction. I heard him make the same effect in a Met performance in January of 1956. Di Stefano disciogliea.
Franco Corelli was capable of spectacular diminuendos and filatura singing, but he often chose to belt out his high notes. This recording was made at his Royal Opera House debut in 1957 and show what he could do when he wasn’t out to set off a sonic boom. Corelli disciogliea.
If I’ve missed a tenor who can match these three with this effect, I’d very much like to know who he is.