THAR BE SPOILERS BELOW.... if you don't know the story of Tosca and don't want plot information, don't keep reading.
I saw this production back in 1985 on PBS and have never forgotten it. Personally for me, it is the best Tosca I've EVER seen. I recently found it on DVD and bought it straight-away. I really don't have enough adjectives for it, but I will try to describe why it's so fabulous.
This is such a wonderful production because all the singers can sing AND act. After all, Puccini's Tosca was based on a play by Sardou for one of the greatest actresses of his day, Sarah Bernhardt. So what is a Tosca without a singer that can act? It's horribly pathetic, I know, I've seen one (more than one, but I won't go bashing here.)
In THIS Tosca, the lead role sung by Éva Marton is to die for (pun intended.) She sings with abundant abandon and also manages to make you believe her EVERY move. They are all motivated by something in her character. You never watch her & think "that's artifice" because it never is. Her "Vissi d'arte" is moving, believable and just a sacred moment in time- a real jewel (nice camera work by Brian Large.) It is also obvious she understands this character of contrasts. Passionate, jealous, pious but dangerous with a knife. :)
She makes you believe in a heroine that can be shy about kissing in front of the "Madonna" in church but fight like a tigress for the man she loves when faced with evil.
Which brings me to the next great acting singer- Ingvar Wixell. While some may find his voice small or dry- I have always liked the quality of his voice. It has a kind of rustic and sensuous quality. But probably best of all is his acting - and I'm not downplaying his voice. He is a singer of formidable qualities (and you may recognize him from the Pavarotti DVD of Rigoletto- more fine acting/singing) but his acting is just so freakin' fabulous that I don't know what else to say. His Scarpia is evil but his Scarpia is human too. By not making him one dimensional, he makes you think about human motivations and machinations. Just one example of the little touches he does that are so genuine:
In Act II after he gets Tosca's agreement of sex in exchange for her lover's life, he grabs her from behind, hungrily kisses her neck, then gives her just a little push-off when he walks away. His Scarpia is always in control. He may want her, but she is disposable and this little movement shows that. Every moment and look and action of Wixell's are right on the money and so in character you forget you're watching an opera - perhaps the highest compliment of all to some!
Our hero, Cavaradossi is sung by Giacomo Aragall. He may not be in the same league with Marton & Wixell when it comes to acting, but he does a good job and doesn't detract in anyway. His singing is selfless and heroic throughout. There are a few moments where he sounds short on breath, but over all this is good Aragall in his prime.
And let's not forget the venue. If there was a devil, I would probably sell my soul to go see a great production like this one at the Arena di Verona in Italy. Because it's in an outdoor arena, the production is HUGE. The sets are huge- they use real sheep in Act III (and yes, even the sheep get applause in Italy! and apparently the tenor does too every time he hits a high C by himself, they stop to applaud, but this only happens twice- I found it endearing.)
The sets, the detail, the costumes, the grandeur of it all is what has kept opera alive all these many hundreds of years. I like a nice quiet and intimate theater experience too, but this is the overwhelming expansiveness that makes for converts!
The orchestra performs well under Daniel Oren. That Act I scene "Va, Tosca!" is tough to keep together (the lack of cannon sound effect make disappoint some, but this scene was loud enough!) The orchestra pumps out a lot of sound, yet the singers never sound drowned out. (When they turn upstage the voices get a bit lost, but the singers seem conscientious of this.) The sound quality on this DVD is very good and the camera work by Brian Large is some of his best. In the 3rd Act when Tosca & Cavaradossi are singing their love duet, he shoots from an angle that allows you to see them both and the huge statue towering over them against the backdrop of the night sky. The whole evening was really quite magical. The camera shows us the grandness of scale, but also allows us to see the singers' finer moments up close and personal.
I cannot recommend this DVD highly enough. There is a great story, great music, great singing, great acting and MAGIC!!! :)