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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Tosca (1900)
Eva Marton (soprano) Tosca; Giacomo Aragall (tenor) Cavaradossi; Ingvar Wixell (baritone) Scarpia; Alfredo Giacomotti (bass) Angelotti; Graziano Polodori (bass) Sacristan; Mario Ferrara (tenor) Spoletta; Giuseppe Zecchillo (bass) Sciarrone; Gianna Brunelli (bass) Jailer; Mario Bonizzato (treble) Shepherd; Chorus and Orchestra of the Arena di Verona/Daniel Oren
Rec. Arena di Verona, around 1984?
NTSC 4:3. Subtitles in English, German, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Japanese.
NVC ARTS/WARNER MUSIC VISION 4509-99219-2 [124'00]


Puccini's shabby little shocker seems particularly suited to the DVD experience, perhaps because emotions are so on-the-sleeve.

This is the latest of a string of Toscas to come my way in this format (the Dessi/Armiliato team on Opus Arte (see review); and Domingo et al on DG, which still remains my favourite (see review).

This most recent effort, from the Arena di Verona, is an outdoor event. Sound can be on the harsh side, something which does not help the sometimes pedestrian, lacklustre orchestra. The presence of some well-known names, however, does make this Tosca worth investigating. Despite being built on several levels, the staging is traditionally based.

Eva Marton, in particular, is excellent. She has huge presence, a voice to match and brings bags of experience to bear on her interpretation. Her voice soars when Puccini asks, and she can do jealousy with the best of them (against the portrait in Act 1).

Ingvar Wixell’s Scarpia is, it has to be said, horrible. He brings great diction to his part, but also a real sense of evil – the way he relishes the very sound of the words he sings is really quite creepy. His Spoletta (Mario Ferrara) is hardly a nice guy, either. And so it is in Act 2, when Tosca and Scarpia have their great scenes, that this production triumphs. Scarpia is positively bestial, and here for the first time the orchestra actually rises to the occasion. Marton's 'Vissi d'arte' is good, if not up there with the greats. She does ride on the crest of her Puccinian wave, however, and clearly the punters enjoy it. Only Cavaradossi is unconvincing in this act  (his cry of 'Maledetta', for instance).

Act 3 brings with it live sheep - if you like that sort of thing - and the worst example of interruptive applause yet - and there have been a few - immediately before the shepherd boy sings. Gianni Brunelli is a comic jailer (great limp!) and one of the few musically memorable moments from the orchestra comes in the way the sound suddenly goes 'black' at Cavaradossi's entrance. The solo cellos here are excellent and it is very difficult to bring off live. Here Aragall comes into his own, his long lines a real pleasure. The audience evidently agree, and at the end of 'E lucevan le stelle' he actually takes a bow! He makes up for it with a positively lovely 'O dolci mani'.

A pity Oren paces the finale too fast so that its menace is blunted, and that the recording does not have the full weight to convey what is going on. Of course, it is well-nigh impossible not to be moved by the end - unless Tosca jumps comically; not the case here.

Be warned, the applause can be very disruptive here, set pieces bringing in predictable cries of 'Bravo'.

From the back of the DVD box, the Italian press loved this Tosca. I cannot agree, but this is worth catching. Stick with the Domingo DG in your library.

Colin Clarke








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