Notes and Editorial Reviews
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I am normally not a stickler for traditional settings in opera productions.
’s act II, for instance, with Scarpia and Tosca together and Cavaradossi nearby being tortured, or act III, with first Cavaradossi alone in captivity, then he and Tosca together with the firing squad, can be performed in many different settings and certainly be effective. Act I, however, is set by the librettists and composer Puccini in a church, and it must be played in a church or
chapel or the like, because there are just too many references in the libretto and in the music itself to get by with anywhere else. This DVD production from the Zurich Opera House directed by Robert Carsen inanely sets the first act in the auditorium of a theater (with folding chairs no less) and starts to lose all credibility almost immediately. Angelotti, the fugitive freshly escaped from Fort Sant’ Angelo and the first character we meet, enters wearing, what else, a suit and a tie, looking a bit disheveled, I would admit. At the end of the act an audience is ushered into the seats and then they rise together and sing the Te Deum while Scarpia rants. Very odd. Acts II and III are little better, being set backstage in the same theater, a particularly inappropriate location to set up a police inquisition or carry out a state execution. At the climax of act III Tosca, instead of taking a dive from the roof, apparently jumps from the stage into the orchestra pit, posing more peril to some hapless cello player than to her own life and limb, and you just know she will get dragged out of there and have to face the music. Perhaps these anomalies fit into director Carsen’s “concept” or perhaps they save the opera company some money, but at what price to credibility?
In one sense the production may be seen as a vehicle to highlight emerging star tenor Jonas Kaufmann, to let him show us his stuff as the young painter and lover Cavaradossi, and, in fact, Kaufmann does so brilliantly. In the last issue of
I praised tenor Marcelo Alvarez for his superior singing in an Arena de Verona DVD production of
, and he is very good there , but I believe Kaufmann tops him here with beautiful, secure singing, fine acting, and his lithe good looks. He gives a definitive performance and may be worth the price of admission alone. Cavaradossi is not the central character, however; in many respects he is just a pawn of the almost psychotic emotional interplay between Tosca and Scarpia, performed here most compellingly in role debuts by Emily Magee and Thomas Hampson. Hampson brings along with his fine baritonal lyricism a more deviously refined intellectual approach to the powerful police chief than others. His sexually tinged manipulation and torment of the opera singer Tosca and Magee’s sexually tinged yet distraught responses, especially in act II, are riveting theater and cut to the heart of the drama. Magee, despite suffering a particularly ugly dress, manages to give us a pretty good “Vissi d’arte” in the midst of it all. She is a fine singing actress but seems a bit uncomfortable with some of the vocalism in this role her first time out. The Angelotti is good in his brief appearance and the Sacristan is not.
The Zurich Opera House Orchestra under the baton of Paolo Carignani impeccably reproduces Puccini’s dramatic score. Booklet notes and synopsis are only provided in English but subtitles are available in six languages, image ratio is 16:9, and audio can be selected in both LPCM stereo and DTS 5.1 surround. Both formats provide excellent sound. There are no extras on the DVD.
has been issued on many DVDs, but few good ones. This Zurich production does not supplant any of those, but if you are not put off by the concept staging this performance provides plenty of sizzle and drama and much fine singing.
FANFARE: Bill White
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Works on This Recording
Tosca by Giacomo Puccini
Emily Magee (Soprano),
Jonas Kaufmann (Tenor),
Thomas Hampson (Baritone),
Valeriy Murga (Baritone)
Zurich Opera House Orchestra,
Zurich Opera House Chorus
Written: 1900; Italy
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