Customer Review

45 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars NOT EVEN CARSEN CAN SPOIL THIS TOSCA, April 11, 2011
This review is from: Puccini: Tosca (DVD)
I won't waste much time discussing this quite problematic stage production seen in the Zürich Opera House. Robert Carsen is well known by now for his "original" ideas. He is not always wrong and in some instances, even in this Tosca, illuminates aspects of the story as never before. But his vision of a kind of theatrical Tosca within a Tosca pretty soon descends into sheer silliness. We have a prosceniun arch on the stage most of the times -gone are the church, Palazzo Farnese and Castel Sant'Angelo- and everything seems to go around a grand diva of the theatre, a kind of glamorous celebrity only worried about her own persona. One could argue that in many ways that is the Tosca envisioned by Puccini. But nobody without a previous knowledge of the story, having seen another more "conventional" staging, would have a clue about what's going on here. This is a Tosca that is elevated towards heaven in her own Te Deum and a Tosca that commits suicide throwing herself to the orchestral pit imagined at the back of the stage. Go figure. Thank God we have Jonas Kaufmann, a true wonder, the greatest Cavaradossi I have ever encountered, live or on record, with the ringing healhy tone of a Corelli and a tender mezzavoce and piano phrasing that brings memories of the best Carreras and only by himself could save the occasion and make this night truly unforgettable. He is also a great actor, someone that seems to live each role he takes. The result in this instance is almost miraculous. Thomas Hampson creates a suave and elegant Scarpia, perhaps more terrifying because of that than the usual truculent fiend, and is quite believable as a character. I don't think it challenges Tito Gobbi vocally, but his is nevertheless a substantial interpretation. I didn't know American soprano Emily Magee, but I should have. She exhibits a good voice and is dramatically involved, creating in her first attempt a serviceable Tosca, without being truly memorable. Unfortunately, and although this probably wasn't a problem in the opera house, to the unforgiving scrutiny of the video camera she doesn't look nearly as attractive as her very handsome Cavaradossi or her refined Scarpia. She is a good-looking mature woman and I would hate to sound unkind, but she does not fit the bill for Carsen's vision of Tosca as the ultimate glamorous goddess, a sort of Ava Gardner of the stage. And to my mind this in not a minor quibble in a production in which even the bishops kneel in front of her. Garignani conducts without bringing much attention to the orchestra. But this is the tenor's hour. You have to have it just because of Kaufmann's Cavaradossi. Now, I need to see him in an unoriginal staging, one in which I am not continually distracted from his moving rendering by production's whims.
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Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 13 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 12, 2011 6:29:17 PM PDT
Juan M. wood says:
I found your review very interesting but I do not understand why you feel obliged to compare Kaumann to Corelli et Carrera and Hampson to to Gobbi. They are all differents and great in their own way.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 12, 2011 11:11:59 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 12, 2011 11:16:04 PM PDT
I couldn't agree more. They are all great. But I cannot see how one can avoid comparisons. When I see and hear any Scarpia I also hear (can't help remembering) Gobbi.

Posted on Apr 23, 2011 2:59:44 PM PDT
Brian Noble says:
I saw this production in Zurich no less than 5 times (including the dates this was filmed). Carsen's production is fantastic, interesting, attractive, and exciting. Setting the piece in a theater really works well. I think this reviewer would have a VERY difficult time sitting in European opera houses of today. When I was younger I, too, used to be closed minded about "modern" productions (this production is about 20 years old now). I guess I've seen so many now that I've become open to modern interpretations and twists....and often they are very satisfying. This production and cast is worthy of all 5 stars!

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 23, 2011 3:58:48 PM PDT
Thank you for your comment. I have nothing to say about your appreciation of this production. It is your view and that's that. But let me assure you I live in Spain and go to the Teatro Real and the Liceu and travel around Europe quite often to see operas and I sit with no difficulty whatsoever in those opera houses. In fact I do not have any problem with new and "modern" (your commas) productions and I do like those that have something to say (apart from just "look how daring and original I am") and bring new ideas with substance to old stories. In fact, in my review I say that Carsen "in some instances, even in this Tosca, illuminates aspects of the story as never before". And that's a good thing. But my problem with this production as a whole can be stated quite simply. It doesn't add anything new of real value (of course in my opinion) and you do need to have seen other more "conventional" productions to understand the story being told by Carsen (and to me that's a fatal flaw of any theatrical production).

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 25, 2011 7:40:52 PM PDT
Brian Noble says:
You did give this 5 stars and I appreciate that! I do....because I really like this production.

The problem with DVD is that you never really see the production as it was meant to be - live. For instance, curtain rises Act II, Scarpia standing there smoking a cig....you cant see (in Italian) "Smoking Prohibited" on the iron curtain! Comic relief at it's best....

Get ready for Herheim's Salome in Madrid!

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 25, 2011 7:40:55 PM PDT
Brian Noble says:
You did give this 5 stars and I appreciate that! I do....because I really like this production.

The problem with DVD is that you never really see the production as it was meant to be - live. For instance, curtain rises Act II, Scarpia standing there smoking a cig....you cant see (in Italian) "Smoking Prohibited" on the iron curtain! Comic relief at it's best....

Get ready for Herheim's Salome in Madrid!

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 27, 2011 2:35:50 PM PDT
A brilliant production in every respect. I've seen "Tosca" dozens of times, and this was (apart from the very brief video cips of Callas and Gobbi) the very best performance, from a theatrical point of view, in my experience. It compares favorably to the 1968 performance I saw at the Met with Birgit Nilsson, Franco Corelli and Gabriel Bacquier, although Magee, fine as she is, cannot match Nilsson. Kaufmann achieves the impossible here--he does match Franco Corelli.

In reply to an earlier post on May 29, 2011 11:15:06 AM PDT
Joe Hart says:
I like the Tosca I have. Never mind who sings it. Tosca was once my favorite opera along with Rigoletto. I am much more interested in the singing than I am in the looks or acting of the singers. As for looks, My Manon Lescaut is with Domingo & Scotto - hardly the age of their characters - but I like it. But as for acting, I've never thought Callas was what her fans claim she was. I have those "very brief video clips" of her and Gobbi (also Sutherland and Gobbi) and I think she is embarrassingly bad. Tosca though certainly horrifying and tragic, needn't be such a grimacing, hanky-twisting nightmare. Well, maybe it is, and in that scene especially, but I still don't like it. A DVD is as close as I'll come to seeing an opera, I'll never see one live, or want to. As for modern interpretations - I saw Domingo in a Butterfly where he jumps feet first through a wall, and a Hoffmann (Bacquier and Hendricks were in it) that was set if I remember in a hospital - called "Some" Tales of Hoffmann. Never again. I prefer the conventional versions.

In reply to an earlier post on May 29, 2011 11:21:18 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 29, 2011 11:21:45 AM PDT
Callas is such a powerful--and powerfully intentional--actress, every detail planned and fitted to the music (although these details varied from night to night, according to reviewers like Harold Rosenthal) that she will always evoke strong reactions from listeners, and some of these will be negative. The more unique the performer, the more powerful the reactions, both positive and negative.

Posted on Jun 3, 2011 4:01:44 PM PDT
David McKee says:
For me, Hampson is the dominant presence here, suavity and arrogance incarnate. Even after literally hundreds of "Tosca" performances, I was pleasantly surprised to discover how much actual singing one can extract from the role, for Hampson "cheats" the musical values less than any Scarpia I can recall offhand (yes, even the great Gobbi). The absent-minded conducting is more distracting than the production, IMO. Carignani gets ahead of the singers when he should accompany and dawdles when he should move them along. The orchestra sounds noisy and bored, not surprisingly.
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