Puccini: Tosca [Blu-ray]
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Eva Marton's prime asset was her large, thrillingly powerful soprano voice, the kind that should be perfect for Puccini's most vocally demanding heroine. And, based on the evidence of this dramatically satisfying 1986 production from the Australian Opera, it was. Even though Marton is past her vocal peak, she still brings force and control to her portrayal of the actress turned murderer for the sake of her beloved artist-lover, Cavaradossi. John Shaw (as the police chief Scarpia) and Lamberto Furlan (as Cavaradossi) both turn in memorable performances but are relegated to near-oblivion by Marton's sheer presence. John Copley's staging stays within the confines of the libretto descriptions, preferring to illustrate rather than illuminate. But that's a small matter; between Marton's luminosity and the virtuosic playing of the Elizabethan Sydney Orchestra under the able baton of Alberto Erede, this is a Tosca to remember. --Kevin Filipski --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Let me start with the cast:
Angela Gheorghiu- I see from comments on this and other websites that she is a controversial soprano. You either love her or you hate her. Put me in the big fan category. I've loved her from her major debut in Covent Garden's "Traviata" (still the one to get). I am a huge fan of her voice. It has a hooded tone that to me is very appealing. (Although I can't exactly describe it, I'd call it the exact opposite of shrill.) She soars and emotes, an all with perfect pitch. She's still very beautiful (important in this role). And, as she says in brief interview comments, she IS Tosca. True, true. She is a real diva (with all its positive and negative ramifications), and this role is the essential Gheorghiu. She inhabits it totally. So, her performance is totally committed and extremely effective.
Bryn Terfel- He is my favorite opera performer, and Scarpia is just perfect for him as well. He has perfected the blend of evil, lust, power, terror and fatalism into a terrifying performance. He is totally convincing- both as a singer and an actor. He perfectly enacts each line of text with the right physical gesture. (Kudos, of course, to stage director Jonathan Kent here as well.) I've seen comments on this performance which point out that he is unshaven and a little slovenly in dress/hair. True- and it works very well as his Rome, like him, is in disarray (and falls by the end of the opera). Masterful.
Jonas Kaufmann- he is the more recent sensation, being busy conquering the opera world in the last few years. His spirito tenor voice is perfect here- and he always looks like the romantic hero. (He has the most perfect hair in all opera.) I thought him particularly effective in his Act one duets with Tosca.
Antonio Pappano- Despite owning hundreds of opera dvd's and CD's, and attending more than 20 opera performances a year, I still find myself unable to appropriately assess/analyze a conductor's work. It's just too subtle for me to pick out (other them tempo- which is only a small part of his work). All I can say, which I do here, is that the opera flows perfectly, and he puts the musical emphasis to the physical action in just the right way. I think he's terrific- but, again, I don't really feel qualified to evaluate it.
The traditional sets are huge and terrific. Costumes, too. This is the best looking Tosca, I've seen. Also, the filming and sound are superb- get the Blu Ray if you can!! There is an 8 minute look at the opera by Pappano that is good, but WAY too short. I would have liked quite a bit more, including more rehearsal footage.
Tosca is, of course, one of the most frequently performed opera in the repertoire- a real war horse in every sense of the word. It is over played and over melo-dramatic. But when done right, it is a terrific piece of musical theater. This performance, perfectly captured on the blu ray disc, is excellent and should be in every fan's collection,. And, it is just the latest in a series of recent releases from Covent Garden that, to my mind, have them on top of the opera world. (See- Bizet: Carmen; Massenet: Cendrillon, Tchaikovsky: Cherevichki - The Tsarina's Slippers [Blu-ray] Yes, better than the Met, Paris, la Scala, Zurich, Madrid and Barcelona (in terms of dvd releases). Keep it up!!!
What makes this Covent Garden production so good are the quality of the singers and Jonathan Kent's brilliant stage direction. You have an all-star cast. Angela Georghiu is the ultimate diva. She really is into her role and sings and acts beautifully. Jonas Kaufmann, who is really a Wagnerian heldentenor, handles the lighter Italian role of Cavaradossi with incredible sensitivity, and is able to tame the hugeness of his voice with genuine warmth and beauty. Bryn Terfel, who I really never liked as Wotan in Wagner's Ring or Mephistopheles in Gounod's Faust, brings the house down as Scarpia. This role is made for him and he really becomes Scarpia so much so that I forget I'm watching an opera (he's really revolting), but his performance is so gripping that you leave Act II wanting to take a shower. Jonathan Kent's stage direction is incredible, for example, after Tosca sings her "Vissi d'arte" and the audience goes wild, there's a silence on stage as Scarpia slowly and contemptuously applauds her "pity-me" performance. It is startling - I've never seen it done before - and it changes the whole mood onstage. Brilliant!
All in all, I would buy this DVD before all others. It's a truly great Tosca on all levels, even surpassing the wonderful Domingo recordings. This is the best it gets. It's also a great way to introduce a newbie to opera. I actually converted two of them in my opera group after watching this production.
It would be all too easy to just go through the motions in such a well-known opera, in a very traditional production and it's easy for the listener to become blasé about yet another production of Tosca, but there's no sign of any complacency here from any of the main performers and never any danger of the listener remaining detached from it all. There's a real sense of commitment in Daniela Dessì's Floria Tosca and in Fabio Armiliato's Caravadossi. Neither are as young as they used to be, and the close-ups in High Definition are rather unforgiving, but there's no substitute for experience. There's scarcely a weakness anywhere in their performances or their singing, a perfect pairing who work exceptionally well together. You don't often get that, and it's something remarkably special when you get such a connection.
Neither singer gives any sense of this being a prestige performance, but both are clearly totally involved in the roles for the sake of the drama. It's unfortunate then that the performance here includes in-the-moment encores for 'Vissi d'arte' and 'E lucevan le stelle' that disrupts the dramatic flow, but on the other hand, it is a recording of a live performance of a popular work for a paying public and there's no question that the encores called for here are merited and impressively reprised. Claudio Sgura isn't quite as strong as Scarpia, but it's a fine attempt at a more human performance of a role that is more often played - and unfortunately scored as such by Puccini - as a caricature baddie.
Superbly directed for TV, capturing all the intensity and passion of the live performance as well as the beauty of the stage production, this Tosca looks and sounds tremendous on Blu-ray. Image and sound are just about flawless. There are no extra features on the disc and no synopsis in the booklet, but the background to the work and its plot are covered in an essay. BD25, 1080i full-HD, PCM Stereo and DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1, All regions, subtitles are in Italian, English, German, French, Spanish and Korean.
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!!! :)
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