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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858–1924)
Tosca (1900)
Francesca Patané (soprano) – Tosca; José Cura (tenor) – Cavaradossi; Renato Bruson (baritone) – Scarpia; Giancarlo Tosi (bass) – Angelotti; Frederico Longhi (baritone) – Sagrestano; Nicola Sette (tenor) – Spoletta;
Orchestra of the Province of Bari, Chorus from the Teatro Petruzzelli/Pier Giorgio Morandi
Direction, Sets and Costumes: Enrico Castiglione
Picture Format 5:1; Dolby Digital Surround
rec. live, Bari, Italy. Published in 2001
VL KLASSIK VLEA096 [123:00]

The preliminary impression of this set wasn’t all that inviting. The back of the box has an incomplete cast list, the inlay is a simple sheet, listing the 37 chapters, there is not a trace of recording venue or date of performance and I wasn’t able to find surtitles in any language. The main menu had two options: “chapters” and “play”. Pressing “play” I got directly into the performance from a stage that obviously had no curtain – an outdoor event it seemed, also considering the heavily fluttering flames of the candles – and the orchestra seemed rather distant. What was more, the conducting was fairly lax and lacked momentum.
On the other hand the setting was comforting: mega-realistic and as close as possible to the original intentions of the libretto. One wasn’t exactly in the Sant'Andrea della Valle but definitely in a church. The only thing that jarred was Cavaradossi’s altar-piece, whose Madonna was nowhere like 1800 – rather 1950s kitsch. The heart sank further when Angelotti appeared, no doubt emaciated and exhausted – which he should be – but also singing with the shaky tone of a long-time prisoner in Castel Sant’Angelo – which he shouldn’t. Opera convention is still such that the singing should be enjoyable, whatever the predicament of the character. Things didn’t improve when the Sacristan swept in. He could sing but he overacted violently, making a parody of his character.
With the entrance of the third character the prospects looked better. Here was José Cura, good-looking and neat, but his acting was pale; he seemed to wish he were somewhere else. That it was a classy voice was never in doubt, but his singing has often been quite idiosyncratic. Hhe inserted little glottal stops – for expressive reasons – and he sounded worn. He delivered his Recondita armonia with some verve but it was not until Mario … Mario was heard off-stage that the temperature rose. Enter a temperamental redhead, charismatic with flashing eyes and a Callas-like timbre. She was a bit hampered by Morandi’s lethargic tempos but her intensity and expressive acting soon overtrumped the orchestra. Even Cura, though still benign, warmed to this Tosca - the very attractive Francesca Patané - and the close-ups of their caressing seemed more than just posturing.
After the customary running-about-and-teasing-the-Sacristan of the choir boys, the Chief of Police marched in. He was dressed in black, elegant, with a sardonic twist in the corner of his mouth – in short a frightening creature. As every credible Scarpia he was low-voiced, even honeyed. Renato Bruson – even at an age when Chiefs of Police normally retire – had retained his superb caressing legato, making him a satanic tamer of his subjects. When he wanted to stress his points, to show his powers, his voice was no longer the pliable instrument it once was. The force was there but also a heavy old man’s vibrato that developed to an ugly wobble. It would have been totally unsuitable for a nobler character but for Scarpia it was adequate.
The second act of this “shabby little shocker”, as George Bernard Shaw soubriqueted the opera, became that spine-chilling thriller one hoped for. Palazzo Farnese was luxuriously furnished with high well-filled book-cases behind Scarpia’s desk – was he an intellectual after all? Against this backdrop the cruel proceedings unfolded mercilessly and rarely has a Cavaradossi been more ruthlessly tortured, bleeding copiously from severe wounds on his forehead and temples and the shirt torn to pieces. But in this act Cavaradossi is just a comprimario and it is the verbal duels between Scarpia and Tosca that are the backbone of the scene. Both were tremendous and the ritual placing of the candlesticks and the crucifix is as chilling as ever.
At the beginning of the third act at Castel Sant’Angelo, the cameras caught sleeping soldiers at daybreak while the Shepherd boy sang his song unseen at a fair distance. Cavaradossi’s E lucevan le stelle was deeply felt – maybe even too deeply; there was more than a hint of melodrama. Long applause – the audience seemed far away – but also something sounding like booing. O dolci mani was soft and loving and the whole final scene breathed resignation – at least on behalf of Cura. There was bad synchronization between sound and actual firing in the execution, but Cavaradossi died anyway. Not until the final credits did I find that the year was 2001, and considering that Cura by then had been singing Otello for four years did the traces of wear in his voice seem plausible.
I started the review on a negative note and certainly there are drawbacks here but Tosca and Scarpia save the day through their deeply felt acting. Some full-blooded (excuse the pun) singing from José Cura shows that at his best he is a stirring tenor in his unorthodox way.
Göran Forsling


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