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Puccini: Tosca

Fabio Armiliato , Teatro Carlo Felice , Marco Boemi    NR (Not Rated)   DVD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect for Puccini Dec 30 2010
I saw this production in the Met's live HD presentation this past summer. This is an absolutely stunning version of Puccini's tragic masterpiece. Mattila's Floria Tosca is beautiful and fierce; her acting is flawless. Alvarez's Cavaradossi is romantic; his vocals are pristine. Gagnidze's Scarpia is perfectly intense; he was made for this role. Everything about this production, from the staging to the props, is beautiful. Each aria is sung wonderfully and the orchestra boasts strength under the direction of Joseph Colaneri.
Luc Bondy's production is a masterpiece: Perfect for Puccini.
This is the perfect production to see if you wish to revisit Tosca in a new light, or see it for the very first time.
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Amazon.com: 2.5 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
45 of 49 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unconvincing singing, acting, and direction. Oct. 28 2010
By Jaydoggy - Published on Amazon.com
Tosca's opening night for the 2009 season at the Met became a rather infamous event. Booing has been at the Met before but not quite that ferocious yet, especially not for opening night. For this particular telecast the production team did not bow.

I was not convinced by Karita Mattila's Tosca. I don't see an innocent highly catholic woman in her acting, nor does her voice have the sweet innocence of Tosca. She has a powerful and wonderful voice, but I don't think it matches the timbre for a Tosca. I have heard her in quite a few more powerful roles which she's been perfect for, so this was a disappointment.

Marcelo Alvarez's Mario was a much more successful role in this performance. Brave, confident, in love, and later heartbroken, sympathetic, and tragic. His voice was always there and never faltering. If anything, I found his performance a little on the melodramatic side.

George Gognidze's Scarpia is by far the most successful role in this performance. His voice is so sinister when he speaks, and his creepy smile throughout is enough to send chills through anyone's spines. It's only his second time at the Met apparently, but I hope that we see more of him not only at the Met but at other great opera houses around the world. He's a wonderful talent, and in the backstage interviews he's also quite a sweet man, like looking and listening to an entirely different person; the true sign of a talented actor.

The director Luc Bondy seems to be unaware of what Verismo theater is. It is realistic, meant to have three-dimensional characters with reasons for actions and gestures. He himself used the word "stupid" when describing the libretto to Tosca. To quote him: "It's nothing special. It's opera." Therefore by his own admission, he did not take Tosca seriously, nor its libretto, and perhaps not even opera as a whole. For this, I do not see why he decided to take this job. For money? Attention? In any case, it gives us no reason to take him seriously either. His full interview can be found here: [...]

Tosca is meant to be a religious woman, and one of the most powerful scenes is after killing Scarpia, she lays the candles by him and a cross on him before escaping - yet here she's lying on a couch fanning herself. Why? What character direction in her description or life makes her do that? Bondy continued to praise himself in what he thought was his own creativity.

Other examples of completely bizarre and over-dramatic direction is everywhere else. Tosca takes a sword to Mario's painting - why? She's jealous, but she's not meant to be so violent that she has a destructive disorder needing psychiatric help. Further, why would she do that and other characters act like that just didn't happen? Or when Scarpia appears in act two and is surrounded by women (one of whom with her mouth on his groin) why do the other men in the room act like nothing's happening? If it's to show to the audience that Scarpia's a creep - we didn't need something that extreme to get the point. In the end of Act 1, the congregation simply freezes in horror melodramatically while Scarpia takes the statue of the Virgin and kisses her. Again, why would he do this? The libretto and dictated actions are plenty to get the idea that he's a creep, and if Bondy thinks we are so stupid that we wouldn't understand that Scarpia's a terrible man, then why is he directing? A good director should equally know when to have a character move and gesture - and should also know when they shouldn't; composers must also know when to write notes, and when to write rests.

All in all, Gagnidze's and Alvarez's singing along with Colaneri's conducting were the only enjoyable aspects for this performance, but are not strong enough for me to recommend this DVD. I would probably not even get it as just a CD due to Mattila's unconvincing Tosca. Luc Bondy by his own admission does not like Tosca, yet he remains prideful in himself. If he doesn't respect us, Puccini, Giacossa, or Illica, then why should we respect him? Again, I am not being harsh on Luc Bondy if these are things he himself is saying - he even said he is angry with anyone with a disapproving opinion, and it is on camera and on the record. I can't take the performance seriously if the people involved don't take you seriously.
33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Certainly not up to the Met's previous standards Nov. 1 2010
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
I am really surprised that the Met even released this opera. The production premiered on September 21, 2009, to boos from the audience and universal pans from the music critics. This release, from a live performance on October 10, 2009, shows clearly the reasons for the negative reactions.
Let's begin with the sets, designed by Richard Peduzzi. The Act I chapel of the majestic church of Sant' Andrea Valle looks like the interior of a stark, seldom used warehuse. The old Zeffirelli production may have been overly elaborate; but this moves to far greater extremes the other direction. The chapel is furnished with out-of-context wooden folding chairs. I researched wooden folding chairs after viewing this setting, and found that they did exist in the early nineteenth century; but these were the style I sat on in Sunday School in the 1940s.
Act II, the "magnificent apartment in the Farnese Palace" was almost as barren as the Act I chapel. Furnished only with two sofas, a small table, and a glider rocking chair (which, by the way, was not patented until 1939). The Act III battlements of the castle were the only set that fit the intended context of the opera.
Then, there is the staging, directed by Luc Bondy. Much of the Met's early publicity spoke of how Bundy breathed a new sense of meaning into the players. New, perhaps, but not what Tosca is intended to be. Karita Mattila, billed as an incredible actress, would best be recognized for her incredible overacting. Whether this is Bondy or Mattila cannot be stated for certain. In Act III, her demonstration to Cavarodossi of how to die was so ludicrous that the audience laughed at it. If this was intended as comic relief, it was inserted in an inappropriate spot in the script. Her monotonous acting in Act II, although hailed by the Met as highly emotional, portrayed no sense of high feelings. George Gagnidze's Scarpia is portrayed, not as lecherous, but as maniacal. Again, was this Bondy or Gagnidze?
Moving to the music. This was basically a shouting match among the three principals, to see who could sing the loudest. None of them won; but the audience lost. To add insult to injury, Mattila had a lot of intonation problems, most notably in the high notes of Vissi d'arte.
I noticed, interestingly, two things as the opera concluded. Tosca's leap from the battlement, supposedly accomplished by a stunt double, was panned by the opening night critics as looking like a dummy, thrown from the top of the set. in the video, the leap is cut off by a blackout. Also, the curtain calls did not include the stage director (Bondy) the major point of the booing on opening night. It seems the Met knew they had problems.
Usually, there is something favorable to review about the Met's releases. Only the Met themselves and a few others find much favorable about this production.
12 of 17 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Best avoided Dec 31 2010
By SilverWizard - Published on Amazon.com
I bought this DVD for 9 Euros (I mean NINE Euros, it's not a typo), and after watching this I couldn't help but lament the waste of my money and time. While I did not hold high expectations for this production given its remarkably low price, I found myself wondering how and why the Met's standards took a nosedive such as the one I witnessed on this DVD.

The first impression the viewer gets when the curtain opens up revealing a "cathedral" full of brickwork and garden chairs (!) is that something is horribly wrong. And, quite unfortunately, that first impression is the right one. Mattila is definitely not going to be remembered for her interpretation of Tosca. Overall, she is PHEMOMENALLY unconvincing as Tosca - I cannot stress that point enough; she is found wanting in both voice and acting. Just listen to the 1953 EMI recording featuring Maria Callas and you will discover that, even though you are listening to a mono audio recording, you get a much, much better mental image of what the real Tosca should look like and behave. Such a great weakness on the part of the lead performer cannot go unnoticed and is dragging the whole production down even more. In fact, if I were to choose ONE among the many weaknesses of this production as the most important one, this would be it. The scenery remains bland and uninspired throughout, totally ruining one's suspension of disbelief.

Now on to Mario Cavaradossi. Alvarez is not such a bad Mario Cavaradossi, but he certainly leaves a lot to be desired. He does get better as the opera progresses, but in the beginning I was forced to put on the 1953 EMI recording once again just to make sure my speakers were not damaged. First impressions are important, and A;varez's "Recondita armonia" sounds quite bland and reveals the performer's inadequacy for this particular role in the most striking of ways. There's absolutely no comparison to be made with Di Stefano, Pavarotti, Domingo, or pretty much anybody else who ever sang this part in a major production.

Gagnidze's Scarpia was probably the best this DVD had to offer, but absolutely not enough to save this production. His voice is velvety and nice, emphasizing the whole "aristocratic, refined evil guy" very effectively. Alas, the same cannot be said for his appearance, which, despite some remarkable mannerisms and facial expressions that contribute to the fleshing-out of Scarpia, is not entirely compatible with what I had in mind (of course, you may disagree).

So, to summarize, stay clear of this DVD. There's nothing in there for you to remember fondly. Unfortunately, innovation for the sake of innovation, just for the sake of claiming to have deviated from the beaten path, can only lead to disastrous results (especially if "the beaten path" is artistically sound).
10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not worthy of DVD release Dec 17 2010
By Patrick Maschka - Published on Amazon.com
This controversial production of Tosca at the Met appears to serve one purpose: to break the traditional mold and reinterpret this classic work for a 21st century audience. Unfortunately, it doesn't work. I'm not just out to bash the creativity that can be found in an edgy production. It's just that many of the designer's and director's choices simply make no sense. A few highlighted missteps:
- A cathedral that looks like a dark alley
- Scarpia dressed in leather
- Tosca collapses on the couch instead of fleeing the scene of Scarpia's murder
- Tosca manages to push a large group of strong soldiers down a staircase
Puccini's opera has stood the test of time. I can't imagine that this DVD will.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars MET was wrong to cast Mattila in title role, but the two supporting ones are great. Nov. 22 2010
By Abert - Published on Amazon.com
Okay, this production is not up to standard. Let's concentrate on the performances instead.
I for one viewed this with quite a good deal of deference for the singers, despite the fact that Karita Mattila was somewhat miscast.
Ms. Mattila did not find favour with some of the MET audience since her Salome some years ago. Her portrayal of this brand new 'Tosca' failed to 'vindicate' that past anomaly. But why? I do not find her to be 'impious' or out of character to the degree some reviewers claimed her to be. Rather, it is her voice that ill suited this role that matters the most! She had slight intonation problem with Vissi d'arte, but apart from that, that aria was about the best reminiscience of her former radiant vocal self. In other parts of the entire opera, she sounded dry and vocally tired.
Her Cavaradossi, however, fared much better. In fact, Marcello Alvarez's Cavaradossi is among one of the best of those who assumed this role recently, Jonas Kaufmann included. Indeed, his performance won a standing ovation from the MET audience at the end of the opera.
I fully agree that the young baritone George Gognidze is the best performer of the lot in this production. No only is he vocally up to par; he is also visually outstanding and dramatically alert. His Scarpia, however the director chose to deal with in this production, is a convincingly base character, but not one totally without charms - evil charms. Not all baritones make good Scarpias, and the same holds true for Iago. Perhaps Gognidze would further his roles by assuming Iago in due course.
I remember that Gognidze was first brought to North America by Lorin Maazel in the role of Scarpia in an opera in concert, with Hui He in the title role. After that performance, Opera News' chief critic David Shengold remarked that MET should hire Hui He in Puccini's verismo roles, particularly roles like Tosca, instead of (inter alia) Karita Mattila.
MET did not take heed, and we have this Tosca, and I understand that Ms. Karita Mattila has given up this role for good.
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