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.
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,
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
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.