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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Tosca, Opera in three acts (1900)
Floria Tosca, a diva - Angela Gheorghiu (soprano)
Mario Cavaradossi, a painter, her lover and a revolutionary - Roberto Alagna (tenor)
Baron Scarpia, Rome’s feared Chief of Police - Ruggero Raimondi (bass-baritone)
Cesare Angelotti, an revolutionary escaped from prison - Maurizio Muraro (bass baritone)
The sacristan, Enrico Fissore (tenor)
Spoletta; a henchman of Scarpia - David Cangelosi (Baritone)
Sciarrone, another of Scarpia’s henchmen - Sorin Coliban (baritone)
The Royal Opera House Chorus & Orchestra, Covent Garden/Antonio Pappano
Director and Set Designer, Sylvain Chauvelot
rec. 2000, No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London.
Costume Designer, Christian Gasc
Sound formats: PCM Stereo, DD 5.1 DTS 5.1 Picture Format 16:9
Subtitles, Italian (original language), English, German, French and Spanish
Also available in 4K version 109293
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD 109292 [125 mins]

Tosca is based on a play by the French poet Saerdou that Puccini saw when it was touring Italy in 1889. After some vacillation the composer obtained the rights to turn the work into an opera in 1895. However, turning the wordy French play into a succinct Italian opera took four years, during which the composer repeatedly argued with his librettists and publisher, a not unusual situation for him.
 
Tosca was premiered at a time of unrest in Rome, and its first performance was delayed for a day for fear of disturbances. Despite indifferent reviews from the critics, the opera was an immediate success with the public. While cerebral critics have frequently dismissed the opera as a facile melodrama, musicologist Joseph Kerman famously calling it a “shabby little shocker”, the power of its score and the inventiveness of its orchestration have been widely acknowledged and the work remains one of the most frequently performed operas. According to the libretto, the action of Tosca occurs in Rome in June 1800. Sardou dates it more precisely as taking place on the afternoon, evening, and early morning of 17th and 18th June 1800. The date being more particularly designated by the arrival, in act two, of the news of the French victory at the battle of Marengo, near Alexandria. After being, initially, seemingly defeated, fresh French troops arrived in late afternoon, facilitating Napoleon’s fresh and successful attack on the tired Austrians. Rome spent the next fourteen years under French domination.

This is a re-issue of the 2001 film, not a film of a performance, but a film with all the gimmicks of the genre on view under the direction of a renowned filmmaker. The gimmicks, a somewhat pejorative term I admit, involve several features not usual in films of opera performances in the theatre. For example the opening music, superbly played by the Orchestra of London’s Covent Garden Theatre, under their renowned music director Antonio Pappano, is seen in black and white but is heard as it is played. For the singers however, the sound is dubbed onto the action in film sets of the various locations of each act. Other films of performances have done the same with some success, such as Zefirrelli’s production of Cavaleria Rusticana at La Scala, after which he took a film crew into Sicily to open up the whole frame via filming and dubbing on of the sound (DG 0734033). This film is different to the Tosca that was recorded in the actual venues, and at the time of day, specified in the libretto (Warner 2564645293) and featuring Domingo, Catherine Malfitano and, as here, Ruggero Raimondi as the lascivious Scarpia. Going the whole hog for effect, not only does the Director include the occasional black and white scene, but he also overlays conversation onto the picture, albeit not too often. You pay your money and you take your choice; at least if you have a 4K TV you may well be tempted by the alternative version to the one I watched.

As to the performance of the singers, Alagna’s Cavaradossi is a well-balanced interpretation with thrilling open throated singing in the torture scene balanced by elegant phrasing and soft singing in ‘E lucevan le stelle’ (Ch.42). As far as singing goes, he is well matched by his then wife Angela Gheorghui whose ‘Vissi d’arte’ is suitably heart rending (Ch.32) in a vocally expressive rending. Where these two slip up is in their acted portrayal. They go through the motions, but their eyes are not living the scene as those of Raimondi do as the malevolent, lusting Scarpia who is, however, somewhat less secure of tone and vocal smoothness in Act Two than in Act One where his tone has more ideal weight as he enters the church and plays Tosca’s emotions like a violin virtuoso as the ‘Te deum’ sounds (Chs. 16-19). Where Raimondi scores over the other lead singers is that his eyes and face tell the story along with the words; he is living the part! All the lesser roles are well sung and Scarpia’s henchmen are suitably saturnine in facial expression. The acting and singing of Enrico Fissore as the Sacristan is worthy of note (CHs. 3-6).

If I was buying a performance of this opera, except for the 4k effect, I would go for the 2011 recording from Covent Garden with Angelo Gheorghiu matching her acting and singing here with her eyes also telling of Tosca’s hopes and fears, Jonas Kaufmann is strong, if not wholly Italianate in tone as Cavaradossi and Terfel is a bullying fearsome Scarpia. Antonio Pappano and his Royal Opera House Chorus and Orchestra play their hearts out (Warner Classics 4 04 63 9). Filmed in HD it costs no more; its only failing lies in the lack of a Chapter listing, with cast and times included, in the booklet.

Robert J Farr

 




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