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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Daniela Dessi (soprano) Floria Tosca; Fabio Armiliato (tenor) Mario Cavaradossi; Ruggero Raimondi (baritone) Baron Scarpia; Marco Spotti (bass) Cesare Angelotti; Miguel Sola (bass) Sacristan; Emilio Sánchez (tenor) Spoletta; Josep Miquel Ribot (bass) Sciarrone; Francisco Santiago (bass) Gaoler; Eliana Bayón (treble) Shepherd
Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Real (Madrid Symphony Orchestra and Chorus)/Maurizio Benini
Rec. live on 19th and 22nd January, 2004 at the Teatro Real, Madrid, Spain. DDD
LPCM Stereo. 16:9
OPUS ARTE OA0901D [194’00]


This is a quality product. The production (Nuria Espert) is predominantly dark and has caused some controversy. Tosca does not leap to her death from ramparts, rather she leaps into a hole in the stage; neither does she place a crucifix on the dead Scarpia’s body, as directed. Yet the oppressive nature of the staging does seem in line with the opera’s concerns.

Opus Arte’s actual ease-of-handling is superb (the menus are so clear). The recording of the very opening reveals an orchestra fully on-the-ball, with punchy brass. Enter Angelotti (Marco Spotti), big and dark of voice if not always entirely spot-on the note. Better is the Sacristan (Miguel Sola) who really does shuffle in convincingly and who recites Latin whilst peeling an orange. It is at this point that one becomes aware of the conductor Benini’s sensitivity to Puccini’s quixotic changes of mood and the light touch he extracts from the orchestra.

The Cavaradossi, Fabio Armiliato, looks rather as if he has just stepped out from a production of La bohème; but he does at least sound committed. He is able to take his time over ‘Recondita armonia’. The audience bravos do seem justified.

His Tosca is Daniela Dessì, who takes a while to warm in to her role. Initially she is squally of voice particularly when pitted against her Cavaradossi, who seems more focused. However before long she reveals a surer sense of line and meaning. She does jealousy very well indeed as when she asks who the woman is in the portrait.

Perhaps the most impressive entrance is that of Scarpia. In the orchestra, chords are built from the bass up, reflecting the huge evilness of the man. There is plenty of colour in the orchestration here, perhaps reflecting the fact that, when he is nice to Tosca, it seems on the surface quite plausible. This Scarpia is a Cardinal; the oppressive religiosity of this Tosca is almost claustrophobic.

The stage now appears huge for the final spectacle of act I. Once more one is reminded of Puccini’s dramatic genius. It is all too easy to let oneself be dragged in and even overwhelmed by this music; Benini and his forces make it doubly easy.

Act II centres on Scarpia and his fascination with Tosca. The infinitely experienced Ruggero Raimondi has every chance to shine here, and shine he does. Any vocal weakness and there is more than a touch of strain at the top of his range is counterbalanced by a total involvement with his role. One of the extras included is an interview with Raimondi, and after seeing him on stage it comes as a real shock to find out what a nice guy he is! His Spoletta, Amilio Sánchez, looks appropriately subservient.

But the most revealing moments come with the Cavaradossi/Scarpia section. Armiliato (Cavaradossi) looks merely stagey, whereas Scarpia really does look angry. The Scarpia/Tosca scenes are more successful with Cavaradossi being tortured in a visible cage at the back of the stage. All characters rise to their dramatic highpoints, be it Tosca’s ‘Assassino’ or Cavaradossi’s ringing ‘Vittoria’.

In a rare lapse of judgement, Benini takes the side-drums too fast, so they lose their dramatic import; Raimondi sounds rushed, also. A shame there are a couple of further miscalculations around here. Dessì scoops up to the first note of ‘Vissi d’arte’. The stabbing itself is not the heart-stoppingly high drama it can be, either.

The final act brings with it an orchestra whose colours are frequently as black as the set that carries the action. Orchestrally, the only real gripe is the solo cellos that are on the abrasive side - although not half as uncomfortably as I have heard in the theatre! Cavaradossi’s ‘E lucevan le stelle’ suffers from Armiliato’s over-careful elucidation of the text, but the Puccinian qualities of his voice come through strongly. Dessì in the third act certainly has cutting edge, if not the final ounce of power demanded.

Dramatically it is hard to fail in this final act, so confident is the composer’s hand. This Tosca falls into a hole in the floor rather than throwing herself off the ramparts, yet there is still the same slightly numb feeling at the end.

Spreading Tosca out onto two discs means plenty of space for interviews. In this case they are actually interesting, with Dessi and Armiliato together discussing the trials and tribulations of Tosca. We learn that they are married, so Alagna and Gheorghiu are not the only husband-and-wife team to have been active in this work! The tales Raimondi tells are fascinating, and Nuria Espert is a very vocal defender of her ideas.

Recommended on many levels. Perhaps it is a tie between Benini’s carefully considered conducting and Raimondi’s evil yet human and believable Scarpia that makes this a worthwhile purchase. It is certainly one of the most thought-provoking DVDs to have come my way.

Colin Clarke


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