Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Tosca - Melodramma in 3 acts (1900)
Daniella Dessi - Tosca; Fabio Armiliato - Cavaradossi; Claudio Sgura - Scarpia; Nikolay Bikov - Angelotti; Paolo Maria Orcchia - Sagrestano; Max De Angelis - Spoletta; Angelo Nardinocchi - Sciarrone
Orchestra, Chorus and Boys' Choir of the Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa/Marco Boemi
rec. Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa, Italy, 2010
Sound Format: PCM Stereo, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround (reviewed in surround); Picture Format: 16:9, 1080i; Region: 0 Worldwide
ARTHAUS MUSIK BLU-RAY 108038 [140:00]
This is a good, conventionally designed Tosca, well sung and played and with a satisfying theatrical flair in the stage direction of Renzo Giaccheri. It is well filmed and very well recorded in surround with proper perspectives. That said, we are not free of some technical gripes. All the acts and musical numbers can be accessed from the menu but there is music from the opera - fortunately not the opening - played over the menus. Most offensive, to me, was the use of yet another extract from the opera playing over the opening titles. I will say it again: The music starts when the music starts and not before. Use audience noise by all means, even tuning up is just about acceptable, but please not music! As if this is not sin enough, the video background of the titles show us stage-building preparations and general backstage activity in slow motion! Ugh! The extras on the disc could have included a short documentary about the stage preparations, that would have been interesting, but there are no extras. The subtitles are available in Italian, English, German, French, Spanish and Korean. The sections sung by the Sacristan in Latin are helpfully displayed only in Latin!
There are few Blu-ray issues of this opera and a leading contender, the performance by Angela Gheorghiu, Roberto Alagna and Ruggero Raimondi on Opus Arte, is on DVD only. This Genoese production, based on the original staging from 1900, doesn't have the field to itself but has little significant competition in HD format. The presence of two of the established troupers, Daniella Dessi and Fabio Armiliato, in the roles of Tosca and Cavaradossi, does give this performance some grounds for respect. They are called an operatic power-couple in the press because of their long-time partnership. Those buying this in the hope that it is the performance during which Armiliato actually did get shot by the stage firing squad - yes really, in Macerata Italy in 1995! - will be pleased or disappointed to know he survives to take a full quota of curtain calls!
One suspects there is a more dramatic performance of Cavaradossi in Armiliato but the musical focus of this production is more on the lyrical end of the spectrum. He sings his first big number with his back to the portrait of the Magdalene to which he keeps referring and there is no sign of the miniature of Tosca that is mentioned in the libretto. However, no one could doubt the excellence of his voice and he rarely puts a foot wrong. Angelotti is sung by Bulgarian Nikolay Bikov who looks a bit mystified by what is going on but sings well enough. Daniella Dessi is obviously the darling of the Genoese audience because she gets a round of applause as she makes her first entrance and before she has sung a note. As a daughter of the city this is hardly surprising. She makes a slightly mature Tosca but shows her years of experience in a subtle rendering of the role both as actress and singer. She maintains her reputation for encores by singing Vissi d'arte twice, and Armiliato, not to be outdone, encores E lucevan le stelle. The chorus is well drilled but look as if they are following instructions rather than reacting to the situation. Things get distinctly darker in Act 1 when the excellent Scarpia enters, sung very well by the impressively tall Claudio Sgura. He comes across suitably villainous with spectacular eyebrows to match. All the makeup looks very theatrical and the cameras are not very kind in close-up. As noted above Dessi is an experienced singing actress and there is a very effective moment in Act 1 when Tosca appears to consider accepting an embrace from Scarpia but then thinks better of it. It makes the events that follow more conceivable. The performance is full of this sort of interplay. Another example is when Scarpia appears surprised by the procession and the Te Deum, so absorbed has he been in his personal plotting.
In Act 2 the balance between the on and off-stage action, thanks to both the RAI engineers and the conductor, portrays a convincing sense of distance. In some respects this Act is the focus of the drama and yet the tension seems underpowered in relation to Marco Boemi's tempi as well as his lack of urgency. For an example of what is needed one need look no further than the BBC/Opus Arte performance noted above. The great aria Vissi d'arte is a cruel test for the soprano and Dessi sounds somewhat strained, but this is countered by her accuracy of pitch and her dramatic intelligence - the latter in overcoming the hiatus of the encore demanded by her fans. The way she takes the knife only after some hesitation is quite superb. When she stabs Scarpia it is a sudden decision, not premeditated, and all the more shocking for it. She does not attempt to emulate Callas in her singing of È morto, she seems more relieved he is dead than vengeful. Act 3 continues the high standard of direction: there is plenty of stage business and all of it contributing to the drama. Armiliato sings E lucevan le stelle with a fine combination of restraint and vocal skill. The audience rewards him with much cheering - and some booing - the former a justifiable reaction to his lack of histrionics and his dignified demeanour. The last few minutes are played out beautifully. The dramatic execution is clearly with Spoletta's pistol. Tosca's leap is her only option.
Dave Billinge  

A traditional but intelligent production, with an excellent cast and a splendid orchestra and chorus.