Tosca - Opera in three acts (1900)
Floria Tosca, a diva - Fiorenza Cedolins (soprano); Mario Cavaradossi,
a painter, her lover and a revolutionary - Marcelo Alvarez (tenor);
Baron Scarpia, Rome’s feared Chief of Police - Ruggero Raimondi
(bass-baritone); Cesare Angelotti, a revolutionary escaped from
prison - Marco Spotti (baritone); The sacristan - Fabio Previati
(tenor); Spoletta, a henchman of Scarpia - Enrico Facini (baritone);
Sciarrone, another of Scarpia’s henchmen - Giuliano Pelizon
A.Li.Ve childen’s choir; Orchestra and chorus of the Arena
di Verona/Daniel Oren;
rec. live, Arena di Verona, July 2006
Director, Set, Costumes and Lighting: Hugo de Ana
Directed for TV and Video: Loreena Kaufmann
Sound formats: PCM Stereo, DTS-HD Master Audio; Picture Format:
Subtitles: Italian (original language), English, German, French,
ARTHAUS MUSIC 108 031
Opera on a big open-air stage has many challenges for
all concerned, particularly the stage Director and Set Designer.
Both roles are undertaken by Hugo de Ana in this production.
Then there are the challenges for the singers in a vast arena
such as Verona. How to act with nuance rather than grand gesture,
but get the emotion and circumstance across to those sat well
away from the stage. It’s a problem for the TV director
too. It might be considered that the conductor has the easiest
task, just let the orchestra off its leash and fill the typical
acoustically near perfect Roman arena with the opulent textures
Puccini composed. It’s heaven help the singers if the
conductor does that. Rather - and Daniel Oren achieves this
to near perfection in this performance - it’s the conductor’s
role to give momentum to the performance, to do justice to this
composer’s opulent melody and textures, and, above all,
to let the thousands in the audience hear the singers and their
words. Whether these words came over at the rear of Verona Arena,
as well they might if the Roman theatre at Orange is anything
to go by, I do not know, but they certainly are clear enough
and well balanced here with the advantage of strategically placed
microphones catching the sound in all its sonority and detail.
It is some time since I have reviewed a Verona performance (see
1 and review
2), not so those from the vast stage of the Sferisterio Festival.
On that vast stage, old-stager and master Designer and Producer
Pier Luigi Pizzi has mastered the technique in a way that Hugo
de Ana doesn’t quite match here. Restricting the width
of the acting stage is fine, but there are undeniable losses.
This felt particularly in the grandeur of the processional entry
and Te Deum in Act One which sets the scene for Scarpia
exhibiting his lust for Tosca herself. In Act Two, with the
revealed massive sculpture of a head dominating the stage, the
intimacy of Scarpia’s apartments actually comes over better.
It is up the face of that sculpture, via steps, that Tosca climbs
to fling herself to eternity, although we lose sight of her
before that final act as the set is blacked out. This is not
wholly inappropriate as there is no real feel of the normal
Act Three set on the battlements of the castle prison while
the shepherd boys had earlier gone fishing. That latter aspect
was a little grating in a production, costumed in period, which,
despite not wholly conquering the challenge of the stage dimensions,
had previously made sense.
Of all operatic dramas, Tosca thrives or dies with the
performance of the three principals. As actors, all three in
this production excel, as do those in the minor parts. This
helps to create a cohesive dramatic whole, something that is
not often achieved in this opera on stage or captured on film.
Vocally, the vastly experienced Scarpia of Ruggero Raimondi
is the weakest, simply because in the twenty plus years since
his first recording of the role, his voice has become somewhat
threadbare in tone. Thankfully, this lack of colour and sonority
is not associated with any loosening or the incursion of wobbles
as he puts pressure on his voice. However, his bearing and the
visual impact of his acted characterisation of the venal sadist
Scarpia, who suffers from a complete lack of any evident mercy
or humanity more than compensate. As Mario Cavaradossi, Marcelo
Alvarez, who only added the role to his repertoire a couple
of months before, at London’s Royal Opera House, is outstanding.
Alvarez has a beautiful lyric voice that can encompass the dramatic
demands of the role in Act Two whilst singing with eloquence
and notable grace in his two big arias (Chs. 4 and 30). Even
lovelier is the gentility of his phrasing and vocal nuance in
the duet with Tosca O dolci mani mansuete e pure: Cavaradossi
realises that it is with the hands he is caressing that Tosca
had stabbed Scarpia to death and which had been covered with
the hated police chief’s blood (Ch.32). He then glories
in the thought of freedom with her (Ch.33).
The ghost of Callas hangs heavily on the role of Tosca. Only
Act Two of the memorable 1964 Covent Garden production by Zeffirelli
was filmed. She was then in poor voice and no match for Fiorenza
Cedolins’ beautiful lyric and expressive vocal capacity
in this performance. But in 1964 Callas didn’t act Tosca,
she lived the role on stage and invested, gravelly chest notes
and squally high ones notwithstanding, memories that stay in
legend for those who slept on the street for several nights
to get a ticket. I would be risking ridicule if I suggested
Cedolins’ histrionic assumption was in the Callas class.
However, the fact that I dare raise the spectre indicates something
of my feelings towards her performance here, both during and
after its conclusion. She has the figure du part; her
voice is beautiful, expressive and clear. She has lower notes
that are pure and aid her expression of emotion to add to an
acted portrayal that is full of detail of facial glance and
bodily conviction. Those in the far-off seats at Verona may
not have seen the detail that is available to the camera of
Loreena Kaufmann, but we can and should glory in it. Add Fiorenza
Cedolins’ Act Two prayer (CH.24), gloriously expressed
and delivered in a manner that the whole audience appreciated
and I find her interpretation and singing betters any other
I have so far seen on DVD. I await the release on the medium
of the recently filmed and transmitted performance from Covent
Garden featuring Kaufmann, Terfel and Gheorghiu conducted by
Pappano to see if it matches this, which in my view currently
leads a congested field including those performances filmed
in the actual Rome locations of the libretto.
Of the lesser roles I would gladly have heard more of the blood-stained
Cesare Angelotti of Marco Spotti and the fine acting of Fabio
Previati as a dithering obsequious sacristan.
The presentation of this Verona performance is poor. There’s
no booklet. The only information is on the reverse of the cover
to be read through the blue of the case and on the back cover.
Certainly inferior to other Arthaus Blu-ray issues; it deserves
better, though it must be said that it is at superbudget price.
Robert J Farr