was revived to great acclaim at La Scala in this 2000 production, which built on Luca Ronconi's 1996 version with musical direction from principal conductor Riccardo Muti and Lorenza Cantini's nightmarishly distorted set. Puccini's most recorded opera is loved and derided in equal measure for its high-octane dramatics, rich arias and the fire-spitting exchanges of the eponymous heroine and her wily tormentor Scarpia. Under Muti, the music takes precedence over the self-conscious theatricality of the book. As a result, some high dramatic points--the stabbing, always tricky, and Tosca's suicide, equally dicey--are underplayed here.
Singers of the calibre of Maria Guleghina and baritone Leo Nucci can be relied upon for rounded, controlled performances. Guleghina eschews the ferocity of Callas for a less stately, earthier honesty and enjoys moments of great delicacy, particularly in a sweet "Vissi d'arte". And her grief at Cavaradossi's death is searing. The key to Tosca, though, is the ambivalent relationship between the singer and the chief of police. Scarpia is probably the most toxic antihero in opera, and Nucci could do with a touch more virulence. Even so, this is a fascinating production that strips away much of the traditional artifice and gives real insight into the complex emotions that make the opera so compelling for its devotees.
On the DVD: Tosca, like so many operas recorded in the theatre, here relies on the performances to compensate for the camera's inability to convey the overall majesty of the production. The 16:9 anamorphic picture format gives no more than a hint of the crushing power of Cantini's set. Happily, the choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS 5.1 surround sound means there is no compromise on the sound front. Orchestra, chorus and principals unite in a fluid homage to Puccini's score. There are no extras on the DVD. One minor niggle: careless editing of the booklet notes means that Puccini briefly becomes Verdi in the description of the opera's genesis. --Piers Ford
From the Back Cover
The revival of Luca Ronconi's version of Tosca
at La Scala was a highly acclaimed theatrical event in March 2000 thanks to a complete new cast. La Scala's Musical Director Riccardo Muti conducted in person, and the solo roles were taken by top caliber stars of La Scala: Maria Guleghina is one of the best dramatic sopranos of our time, while Salvatore Licitra is the shooting star in the tenore-spinto field, a field sparsely represented worldwide. The legendary Verdi baritone Leo Nucci rounded odd an excellent singer ensemble, of which the most famous opera house in Italy can be justifiably proud. Muti was conducting a staged version of Tosca
for the first time in his long career and, according to the unanimous view of the critics, delivered a colourful, comprehensible reading of enthralling theatre.
Floria Tosca - Maria Guleghina
Mario Cavaradossi - Salvatore Licitra
Il Barone Scarpia -- Leo Nucci
Cesare Angelotti -- Giovanni Battista Parodi
Il Sagrestano -- Alfredo Mariotti
Spoletta -- Ernesto Gavazzi
Sciarrone -- Silvestro Sammaritano
Un Carceriere -- Ernesto Panariello
Un Pastore -- Virginia Barchi
Coro e Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala
Directed for Stage by Luca Ronconi
Recorded live at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, March 2000
Directed for television by Pierre Cavasillas