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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924)
Tosca - opera in three acts (1900)
Angela Gheorghiu (Tosca), Jonas Kaufmann (Cavaradossi), Bryn Terfel (Scarpia), Lukas Jakobski (Angelotti), Jeremy White (Sacristan), Hubert Francis (Spoletta), ZhengZhong Zhou (Sciarrone); Royal Opera Chorus, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Antonio Pappano
rec. live, Royal Opera House, London, 2011
Director: Jonathan Kent
Designer: Paul Brown
Picture: 16:9
Sound: LPCM stereo
Format: DVD 9/NTSC
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, German
EMI CLASSICS DVD 4040639 [120:00]

This production wasn’t especially well received in 2011 until changes were made to the cast to include some truly world class singers in the line-up. It’s that cast that’s on show on this DVD, recorded from two performances at the Royal Opera House. 

As far as Toscas on DVD go, this is up there with the very best of them. All the elements are in place: an all-star cast, quality video production and excellent sound. After watching several operas recently with unusual and minimalist stage-sets it actually came as a refreshing change to see Tosca in a more traditional setting produced by Jonathan Kent. The whole production is dark, classy and full of brooding atmosphere. The sets are superb with a suitably ominous church complete with its menacing torture chamber. The steep, sweeping staircase must have posed a challenge for the cast and Tosca’s final leap from the castle parapet is most convincing. Some critics have called this production old-fashioned. OK, that may be the case but it’s a stunning piece of work. The setting is supposed to be in Rome in 1800 and that’s what we are given here in terms of stage sets and lavish costumes.
Antonio Pappano and his orchestra are magnificent throughout and there are no obvious weaknesses in the cast. The production revolves around the three main characters and their performances deserve more detailed comment.
Angela Gheorghiu isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Personally I find her voice very attractive. It’s silky, beautiful and controlled. Maybe she is lacking in power but that doesn’t matter when listening to a DVD. At least there is no over-singing or edgy tone. Her Tosca is convincing and well-acted. That also applies to the rest of the cast. The standard of acting in opera can be excruciating and hammy. Not so here - the combination of singing and drama is top class and Jonathan Kent must take a lot of the credit for this. Gheorghiu’s rapport with Kaufmann is electrifying and the love scenes are tasteful and touching. The darker side of Tosca’s character doesn’t quite come through but that is merely a passing observation. For the most part she is ravishing and beautiful.
Jonas Kaufmann has a fabulous lyric tenor voice. He makes the perfect partner for Gheorghiu in those wonderful Act One duets. His tone blends perfectly with hers and the phrasing and intonation are immaculate. They look like a couple - he is the romantic hero and she is the seductive temptress. Great stuff.
Now to the star of the show: Bryn Terfel. He dominates the stage like no-one else and his Scarpia makes the flesh creep. His singing and character acting are remarkable. I was somewhat taken aback when he first came on stage. He looks like a vagrant with his dirty unshaven face, straggly hair and unkempt appearance but it actually works. He is the ultimate villain and every gesture is captured on video to bring his monstrous character to life. The DVD is worth buying for his performance alone.
Aurally and visually this is a classic Tosca. If I were to choose just one version this would probably be the one to go for.
John Whitmore 

Previous review: John Quinn (February 2013 Recording of the Month)