Notes and Editorial Reviews
Arena di Verona, 2006
Floria Tosca a famous singer - Fiorenza Cedolins
Mario Cavaradossi painter - Marcelo Alvarez
Il barone Scarpia chief of police - Ruggero Raimondi
Cesare Angelotti an escaped political prisoner - Marco Spotti
The sacristan - Fabio Previati
Police agent - Enrico Facini
Police officer - Giuliano Pelizon
A jailer - Angelo Nardinocchi
A shepherd boy - Ottavia Dorrucci
Coro e Orchestra dell'Arena di Verona
Staging Director: Hugo de Ana
A superlative staging of Puccini’s Tosca by Italian opera producer Hugo de Ana brought to you from the
world-famous Arena di Verona and complete with all the splendour that a Puccini opera demands! The popular tragedy is sung by a dream team cast of excellent singer-actors and conducted by long-established Arena di Verona conductor Daniel Oren.
The recording captures one of those special Verona summer evenings, when the audience fills the historic circle in expectation of the enjoyment of an open-air opera performance. Verona’s amphitheatre, known as the ‘arena’, provides an atmospheric setting for the summer festival that has assembled the stars of the international opera scene each year since 1913. To view an opera in the former amphitheatre, the second largest of its kind after the Colosseum in Rome, can truly be regarded as an impressive experience. The DVD, however, provides a closer look at the stage and the singers and brings this dramatic opera directly to the home viewer.
The first menacing chords of Puccini’s Tosca set the clock ticking for a sequence of dramatic events that begin at one specific time and place in history, Rome, on the morning of 17 June 1800 and end tragically at dawn the following day. The vast spaces of the arena call for big gestures, and producer and designer Hugo de Ana’s opening imagery evokes a Rome of outsize sculpture – a sword, a vast hand holding a rosary with ominous metal links – that recalls the colossal statue of Emperor Constantine created to stand in the Roman forum in the fourth century.
Puccini’s opera takes the “realism” of music that details places, moods, times of day and mimics action and physical movement, and applies it to a historical drama. De Ana takes the specifics of the action – the tools of the painter Cavaradossi, Scarpia’s desk, the apparatus of a church ceremony – and sets it against this general visual expression of the overbearing collusion of political power and the Church, and creates a shifting sequence of telling images and colour schemes. For example, Tosca wears a “jealous” green at the beginning, a scarlet dress in the second act, when she stabs Scarpia to death and blue, the colour of hope at the final act, when she mistakenly expects to be reunited with her love, Cavaradossi.
The first-rate singers add to the atmosphere of this very special event: Since first appearing in the opera after winning the “Luciano Pavarotti Voice Competition” in 1996, Fiorenza Cedolins has sung Tosca in Rome, Nice and Paris, and recorded the opera under Zubin Mehta. In the drama, the character is a famous singer, and any performer in the role has to take on this aspect of the make-believe diva. It was this element that the critic in Il giornale found so convincing in Cedolins’s portrayal of the impulsive heroine: “an actress who is able to pretend and withstand the appeal of a cunning seducer”, while La Repubblica described her as “a splendid Tosca, in her gestures, but even more importantly, in her singing”.
Argentinean tenor Marcelo Álvarez, on the other hand, had only recently made his début in the role (at Covent Garden in June 2006) before this Verona production, and the review in the British Opera magazine found that he “lived up to his reputation for excellence” and drew particular attention to his expressive singing of the famous “E lucevan le stelle”.
The trio of doomed principals is completed by Ruggero Raimondi’s Scarpia, a role to which the singer has brought not only, to quote Opera again, “a powerful stage presence and unchanged acting skills” but also a depth of background knowledge of the play and of the historical facts that flesh out the sinister character, strengthen his motivations and make him far more than a personification of evil.
Sound Formats: DD 5.1, DTS 5.1, PCM-STEREO
Picture Format: 16:9 widescreen
Subtitles: English, German, French, Italian, Spanish
Region Code: 0 (all)
R E V I E W:
I don't know what's coming up during the remaining months but I feel quite certain that this will be my opera DVD of 2007.
At the Arena di Verona the productions tend to be monumental. They need to be to fill that vast stage and to be enjoyable to the masses that occupy the amphitheatre. The acting also tends to be monumental in an old-fashioned way with wide gestures and sometimes rather statuesque movements. TV and video producers have a difficult task to convey the drama with all its nuances and still give some impression of the spectacle, which is part and parcel of the Arena concept. The small TV screen, even with today’s widescreen format, can only give a pale replica of what the audience in the Arena experience. Colourful processions look like doll’s house parades.
In Tosca there is some spectacle in the first act, primarily the concluding Te Deum, and Loreena Kaufmann managed to squeeze enough of this including the on-stage cannon-fire into the TV to satisfy at least this viewer. However, for most of the opera she works with half-distance and close-up shots. With the taut direction and responsive and skilful actors, this has resulted in one of the most engaging Tosca performances I have seen, live or on video or TV.
The experienced Daniel Oren held the orchestra on a tight rein. Only in the opening of the last act was there a tendency to sag, but that almost always happens and has little to do with the music itself, which certainly is atmospheric. After the eruptions of feelings and drama that has gone before almost anything would feel pale.
What made this performance stand out was the intense interplay between the protagonists. Marco Spotti, with blood-stained bandage around his head, didn’t have time to make much of Angelotti, who crawled on the stage for most of the time, but he sang excellently with dark dramatic voice. Fabio Previati was an uncommonly youthful and agile Sacristan; here was an actor who could steal the stage. Another potential stage-stealer is the oily Spoletta but Enrico Facini was far too anonymous. Still these are all comprimarios and what counts in a performance of Tosca is the trio of central characters.
Marcelo Alvarez’s beautiful voice has grown in heft since I first heard him, six or seven years ago and he has not his lyric qualities. Thus he delivered an arduous Recondita armonia and was truly impassioned in the long duet with Tosca in the first act. His cries of Vittoria! in the second act were blood-chilling and then he showed his real mastery in the last act with a sincere È lucevan le stelle and an O dolci mani that could make an iceberg melt. He acted the role as well as any tenor in my experience.
When Scarpia made his first entrance one knew immediately that here was a merciless ruler, stiff, purposeful, organized. His bearing revealed a nobleman with controlled feelings – feelings he was unable completely to control in the confrontations with Tosca in the second act. Ruggero Raimondi has all the attributes necessary to depict this monster in disguise. Every gesture, every movement was so in phase with his mind. Of course he has sung the role for ages; it’s almost thirty years since he first recorded it with Karajan and he still retains so much of a voice that can express nobility and warmth as well as evil. He has lost a little of the lustre and possibly a little in volume but it is still an instrument in fine shape, well-equalized and with not a trace of a wobble.
Fiorenza Cedolins is well equipped to make her an ideal Tosca. She has the prima donna looks and bearing. Her gestures and facial expressions are full of life. She works with small means: just a quick glance, a twist in the corner of her mouth and one knows her feelings. I am afraid the majority of the audience in Verona last summer saw very little of this but the ever watchful eyes of the TV cameras registered every nuance. A superb actress! Besides all this she is a superb singer with a Callas-like intensity in the big dramatic moments and a ravishing pianissimo to make time stand still in Vissi d’arte. What was slightly irritating in the second act was that her red robe with its enormous train was so heavy that she had to struggle physically to move. If there was a dramatic point in this I missed it but never mind. I would probably have loved this performance on location too, but seeing all the details in Hugo de Ana’s production in close-up added a further dimension.
I don’t know what’s coming up during the remaining months this year, but I feel quite certain that this will be my opera DVD of 2007.
-- Göran Forsling, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Tosca by Giacomo Puccini
Marcelo Alvarez (Tenor),
Enrico Facini (Tenor),
Fabio Previati (Baritone),
Fiorenza Cedolins (Soprano),
Marco Spotti (Bass),
Ruggero Raimondi (Bass)
Verona Teatro Arena Orchestra,
Verona Teatro Arena Chorus
Written: 1900; Italy
Date of Recording: 2006
Venue: Arena di Verona, Italy
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