Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924)
Tosca (1900)
David Pittsinger (bass) - Angelotti; Paul Plishka (bass) - Sacristan; Marcelo Álvarez (tenor) - Cavaradossi; Karita Mattila (soprano) - Tosca; George Gagnidze (baritone) - Scarpia; Joel Sorensen (tenor) - Spoletta; James Courtney (baritone) - Sciarrone; Jonathan Makepeace (treble) - Shepherd; Keith Miller (bass) - Jailer; The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus/Joseph Colaneri
rec. live, HD transmission, 10 October 2009
Production: Luc Bondy; Set Designer: Richard Peduzzi; Costume Designer: Milena Canonero; Lighting Designer: Max Keller
Picture format: 16:9; Sound format: LPCM Stereo / DTS 5.1 surround
Bonus features: Backstage at the Met with Susan Graham
VIRGIN CLASSICS 6419739 [137:00]

Karita Mattila sang her first Tosca some four years ago at the Finnish National Opera in Helsinki and was greatly admired by Bill Kenny (see review). She was then already scheduled to sing the role at the Met. Finnish opera lovers were obviously just as overwhelmed as Bill and, as he concluded his review, they ‘are booking already to follow her to New York’. I have no idea how many compatriots actually were there for the opening night, but those who were not, were, I hope, able to see the live broadcast and those who couldn’t manage that have a golden opportunity with this DVD. Bill wrote about the Helsinki performance that it ‘turned out to be the most subtle and sensitive portrayal of Puccini's diva heroine seen for many a long year. Mattila's Tosca isn't merely the confident opera star: she's a woman deeply in love whose jealousy is tentative, touching and understandable rather than strident and angry. She's impossible not to like’. I couldn’t agree more.
The first winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition in 1983 she has just turned fifty but there are no signs of vocal decline. On the contrary her voice has gained further spinto quality while retaining the lyrical bloom and sensitivity. Always a good actor she had been accused of over-acting during the first performances in Helsinki, according to Bill’s review. Well, she doesn’t exactly play the role straight and even I thought she was over the top, but to me Tosca is, and has always been, the epitome of a character on the verge of a break-down, of total chaos and hysteria. Being an artist, she knows how to express her feelings in a larger-than-life manner. To stand up against the tyrannical Scarpia requires a tigress, barely hiding her claws and in the second act Mattila mentally arches her back against the Chief of Police’s advances. But she can be loving and joyful in the first act duets with Cavaradossi - and jealous! Sparks fly visually when she identifies the portrait of the Madonna. She is so vulnerable and helpless in Vissi d’arte, determined in her search for the safe-conduct and in the last act confident and almost overbearing - until she realizes that the fake execution wasn’t a fake at all. This is as rounded a portrait of Floria Tosca as one can ever expect to see - and with singing to match. But, again, this is my personal view and I have even seen Tosca in a concert performance long ago with a Tosca, who had the looks and bearing of Callas but sang the role almost motionless, score in hand, and still could convey all the emotions with her voice and her facial expressions. I remember reading some negative reviews from the Met premiere and wasn’t too hopeful when I started my reviewing séance. I may have nerves of steel but I didn’t understand what the fuss was about.
As on the recommendable Tosca DVD from Verona, recorded in July 2006, Marcelo Alvarez is an admirable Cavaradossi, ardent and thrilling but with lyrical softness and creamy tone that allows him to sing a ravishing E lucevan le stele and, an even more enchanting, O dolci mani. He is no mean actor and makes the painter come alive and stand out as something more than a good tenor singing good arias.
The great surprise is however the Georgian baritone George Gagnidze, whom I had never heard before. He has already made his mark in several big opera houses, including La Scala and The Metropolitan, where he was a superb Rigoletto during the 2008-2009 season. I can understand the superlatives I have read, since here is a singer with a well schooled and expansive baritone, dark in the lower register but with almost tenoral brilliance at the top. He is an expressive actor as well, working with rather restrained means and he knows how to colour a phrase memorably. His Scarpia was no cardboard villain but a monster of flesh and blood; yes, even with a glimpse of human warmth. I have seen many great Scarpias live through the years, including Ingvar Wixell in the 1970s and in recent years Juha Uusitalo and Sergei Leiferkus, all of them deep-probing actors as well as formidable singers. George Gagnidze on this hearing and viewing might well join their company.
The rest of the cast is fully acceptable, though the well-seasoned Paul Plishka may seem over-ripe vocally these days. But a good Sacristan first of all needs stage presence and charisma and Plishka has both in abundance.
So far so good then, but there were other disappointments. This production replaced an old and much loved one, signed Zeffirelli, which I haven’t seen. Knowing some of his other productions, not least the spectacular Turandot, which I saw at the Met a year ago, I have an idea of what could be expected. Where Zeffirelli is lavish, Peduzzi is merely dull, functional with no frills. And Luc Bondy, who allegedly has declared that he doesn’t like this opera, clearly shows this in an unimaginative reading. I wonder why he accepted the task in the first place.
So readers who want Tosca to be a feast for the eye as well as for the ear should be warned. They are best advised to avoid this set completely or at least try to see some glimpses of it first (see Youtube). A far better proposition is the Verona production mentioned above. But for great singing of the three central roles and with conducting that in no way lets the performance down, the present set is well worth owning. And you can always listen to it without the visuals …
Göran Forsling
For great singing of the three central roles and with conducting that in no way lets the performance down, the present set is well worth owning.