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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
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 (baritone)
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: 16:9
Subtitles: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish
ARTHAUS MUSIC 108 031 [119:00]

Experience Classicsonline


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 review 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
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


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