12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 3 April 2013
I was immensely impressed with this dvd. Not only do we have Gheorghiu's beautiful soprano and convincing acting, but we have in Kaufmann the greatest dramatic tenor I can remember. Terfel gives us a (for me) credible alternative to Gobbi in the role of Scarpia. He is a twisted, tragic rogue in Dickensian mode, who has bullied his way to high office and is held in awe by those who surround him. Terfel gives us a true villain, not as sinister as Gobbi, it's true, but one who wears his villainy on his sleeve. Gheorghiu sings her heart out: she has clearly listened to Callas, but is wisely anxious not merely to copy her. The ROH orchestra gives its all and Pappano conducts with conviction and to magnificent effect. How influenced Puccini was by Wagner - listen to the orchestral interlude preceding Cavaradossi's execution, for example: almost 'lifted' from the pages of 'Die Meistersinger'. Sound is excellent, camerawork superb. I cannot either fault the performances of lesser characters like Spoletta, suitably sycophantic: creepy and knowing. This is a 'Tosca' I feel should be invested in by all lovers of the melodrama; it will be a very long time before it is surpassed.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 1 December 2014
This production wasn’t especially well received in 2011 until changes were made to the cast to include some truly world class singers in the line-up. It’s that cast that’s on show on this DVD, recorded from two performances at the Royal Opera House.
As far as Toscas on DVD go, this is up there with the very best of them. All the elements are in place: an all-star cast, quality video production and excellent sound. After watching several operas recently with unusual and minimalist stage sets it actually came as a refreshing change to see Tosca in a more traditional setting produced by Jonathan Kent. The whole production is dark, classy and full of brooding atmosphere. The sets are superb with a suitably ominous church complete with its menacing torture chamber. The steep, sweeping staircase must have posed a challenge for the cast and Tosca’s final leap from the castle parapet is most convincing. Some critics have called this production old-fashioned. OK, that may be the case but it’s a stunning piece of work. The setting supposed to be in Rome in 1800 and that’s what we are given here in terms of stage sets and lavish costumes.
Antonio Pappano and his orchestra are magnificent throughout and there are no obvious weaknesses in the cast. The production revolves, of course, around the three main characters and their performances deserve more detailed comment.
Angela Gheorghiu isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Personally I find her voice very attractive. It’s silky, beautiful and controlled. Maybe she is lacking in power but that doesn’t matter when listening to a DVD. At least there is no over-singing or edgy tone. Her Tosca is convincing and well-acted. That also applies to the rest of the cast. The standard of acting in opera can be excruciating and hammy. Not so here - the combination of singing and drama is top class and Jonathan Kent must take a lot of the credit for this. Gheorghiu’s rapport with Kaufmann is electrifying and the love scenes are tasteful and touching. The darker side of Tosca’s character doesn’t quite come through but that is merely a passing observation. For the most part she is ravishing and beautiful.
Jonas Kaufmann has a fabulous lyric tenor voice. He makes the perfect partner for Gheorghiu in those wonderful Act One duets. His tone blends perfectly with hers and the phrasing and intonation are immaculate. They look like a couple - he is the romantic hero and she is the seductive temptress. Great stuff.
Now to the star of the show: Bryn Terfel. He dominates the stage like no-one else and his Scarpia makes the flesh creep. His singing and character acting are remarkable. I was somewhat taken aback when he first came on stage. He looks like a vagrant with his dirty unshaven face, straggly hair and unkempt appearance but it actually works. He is the ultimate villain and every gesture is captured on video to bring his monstrous character to life. The DVD is worth buying for his performance alone.
Aurally and visually this is a classic Tosca. If I were to choose just one version this would probably be the one to go for.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 5 January 2015
I shopped around a good many performances of Tosca before settling on this one, and it does not disappoint. This Royal Opera House version has a good balance between traditional production values (the setting is Rome in 1800, like it says on the tin) and fresh, naturalistic acting by an excellent cast. It doesn't take any gimmicks to rejuvenate this war horse, just love and attention to detail and top-quality singing. In his brief introduction, the enthusiasm of Tony Pappano, the conductor, leaps across, and he has obviously communicated it to the orchestra: the playing shimmers and sparkles, the ensemble is flawless, and as an spectator you can just forget about any logistical problems and allow yourself to be carried along effortlessly by the drama.
Bryn Terfel is a great artist, not too vain to show Scarpia for what he is: a failure, the wreckage of a man, but no less terrifying for that. Jonas Kaufmann has to be simply one of the best Marios ever, putting Alagna and even Domingo in the shade. Angela Gheorghiu in the title role seems sometimes to let her undoubted beauty of both looks and vocal tone carry her through at the expense of acting: she is too restrained in Act II, seeming to regard the prospect of being raped by Scarpia with some equanimity, before managing to stab him to death without getting so much as a drop of blood on the knife or her flawless white dress. Let's face it, most Toscas are too restrained, and/or too haughty - when will we get one who has an urchin's wildness under her diva veneer, as the play called for? But that's by the by.
However good the performance, I have to admit I can never see this opera without wishing that it was just a little bit better than it is. Puccini and his librettists rushed their work and couldn't agree on what they were trying to achieve, much as movie adaptors of novels tend to in our time, and the opera is stuck half in and half out of the chrysalis of Sardou's mechanical melodrama, not quite fulfilling the enhanced emotional potential of the characters and the story. This is especially obvious in Act III, where the iconic final leap from the battlements can't make up for the fact that we expected the characters to grow further, and they regress instead.
However, all the claims that this opera is `decadent', that it wallows in passivity and futility, that its message is `the illusory nature of happiness', seem to me to be wide of the mark. This is what critics have been saying for a century, either to dismiss Tosca or to assert its place in a tendentious 'story of western culture' in which Romanticism inevitably has to decline into decadence, nihilism, etc. so that a sterilised, intellectually straitjacketed High Modernism can take over. Performers and audiences, however, have stayed happy Romantics and do not experience the opera as a gloat over doomed puppets. Rather, it comes across as an affirmation, a moral victory for the lovers who, although apparently destroyed by a cruel world, achieve an apotheosis not much different from those of The Flying Dutchman, Aida or Swan Lake. It is this joy snatched from terror that makes people endlessly return to see it. Now that post-modernism has relaxed the stranglehold of the highbrow, middle-brow opera-goers can surely reassert their love for it without shame. And point out that rather than being a decaying fruit, Tosca was in some ways ahead of its time: musically, in its anticipation of film music; dramatically and morally, in its depiction of totalitarianism. (Susan Vandiver Nicassio's book 'Tosca's Rome' has some interesting discussion of this.) In Scarpia's Act II monologue, just as in Orwell's 1984, Mao's China, the files of the East German Stasi, and the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is made clear that the totalitarian state and its representatives cannot tolerate any relations among its citizens based on trust, sympathy, and, especially, sexual love, rather than power. Mario may have sheltered a political subversive, but his real offence and Tosca's is against Scarpia's proto-fascist code that coercion is better than consent, that struggle is all. Scarpia's horrible bargain with Tosca is designed to prove that love - foolish, fallible, human love - is no match for power. Yet he gets more than he bargained for: although the lovers cannot escape his plot, he loses, even in his own terms. And Tosca's and Mario's triumphant moments of defiance and subversion are what stay in the audience's mind.
Some criticism of Tosca seems to stray dangerously close to the totalitarianism that the opera condemns. The recurrent opining that Puccini should have had the `courage' of his convictions and openly relished the sexual sadism of Scarpia, that Scarpia is a `strong' character to be contrasted with the `weak' Mario (who is actually degenerate enough to think about love-making rather than politics just before he dies, and to admit to despair in the face of death! What a disgrace to the Party!), that Tosca secretly prefers Scarpia or is better matched with him (even the great Tito Gobbi fell prey to this tripe) ... all this, I should say, shows that the opera's message that consensual sex is an entirely different thing from coercive sex, and is worth it however vulnerable it makes you, is not as obvious and anodyne as you might think; indeed, that it was lost on a large proportion of twentieth-century intellectuals, and is, perhaps, only now coming into its own, thanks partly to the rise of women opera critics and directors. I relished hearing Catherine Malfitano, a great Tosca in her time and recently the director of a production at the English National Opera, explode the `charismatic Scarpia' nonsense and elevate Mario as the real though all-too-human hero of the opera. https://audioboom.com/boos/126231-eno-operacast-catherine-malfitano-talks-about-directing-tosca What she tells us, the miraculous Jonas Kaufmann in this performance shows us, beyond any doubt!
Perhaps it's not too late to retrace our steps from the lunacies of the twentieth century and recreate the tradition of tuneful, taut, emotionally cathartic and obsessional operas like Tosca. Until they come, we are left with the great stalwarts of the Romantic repertoire, well served by DVDs like this one, that may bring them to a whole new audience.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 19 October 2012
This 2011 production of Tosca has the great advantage of three very fine singers with Angela Gheorghiu in the title role, Jonas Kaufmann as the idealist republican Mario Cavaradossi and Bryn Terfel as the malevolent police chief Baron Scarpia. Their singing plus the fine musicianship of the orchestra, under the baton of Antonio Pappano, are the major pleasures of this traditional production of a very popular opera. That said certain question marks exist in relation to certain performances and the staging. Once again with a DVD of a Covent Garden performance the viewer is placed at a disadvantage by poor presentation, for information is limited to an essay and a synopsis. No chapter headings are provided.
A seasoned regular at Covent Garden Angelea Gheorghiu masterrminded the 2010 production of Adriana Lecouvreur and in their assessments certain reviewers, although paying tribute to the excellence of the soprano's singing, described her performance as rather lightweight. Such is the impression gained in the first act of Tosca for this accomplished singing actress tends to concentrate too much on the flirtatious side of Tosca's character at the expense of both a deeply held religious commitment and an alarmingly jealous nature. Here she is not helped by a set on three levels which demands that some of the action must take place on a staircase. Such works to the disadvantage of the performers. Gheorghiu has a well deserved reputation as a supreme depicter of tragedy and in her Act 2 confrontations with Scarpia she is at her very best. The act's high point is the soprano's heart felt rendering of "Vissi D'Arte" which is received with well deserved applause. She is again very good in the final Act 3 and the final moments of total despair are most convincing.
Many reviewers now regard Janos Kaufmann as the world's best dramatic tenor and as both actor and singer he is in first class form. Both his two major arias, particularly "O Dolci Mani" are expertly delivered. His acting skills are at their best in the demanding Act 3 for with just one fleeting look it is obvious that he fully realises that the firing squad will not be the sham affair with blanks that Tosca in her misplaced innocence imagines.
As the evil selfserving Scarpia Bryn Terfel delivers a consistently good performance but certain essentials are lacking. In the avaricious pursuit of power and women a political manipulator such as Scarpia would realise only too well the absolute importance of appearance and here Terfel's hangdog expression, unshaven face, long unkempt hair and somewhat scruffy clothing is at odds with character and also detracts from performance appreciation. Unfortunately the performer's appearance is such that it is virtually impossible to believe that this Scarpia could generate the fatal fascination that is so necessary to the character.
As mentioned above the staging of Act 1 is of questionable benefit. The act is not helped by less than impressive performances by Angelotti and the Sacristian. Misplaced attemps to make the Sacristan a comic figure are a total misfire. Act 2, set in Scarpia's apartment at the Palazzo Farnese is well staged in period character. Act 3 is set as an execution centre with minimal but effective staging aided by clever lighting.
This production has many very good moments and is a worthy addition to an opera collection. In 1985 Franco Zeffirelli masterminded an amazingly staged production at the Met with a jaw-dropping Act 1. The production is well served by Placido Domingo as his most ardent best, a truly evil Scarpia in Cornell MacNell and a well acted Tosca in Hildegard Behrens. The great character bass Italo Tajo shows just what can be done with the part of the Sacristan Some years earlier the Met mounted a production of the opera with the outstanding Shirley Verrett delivering a marvellous "Vissi D'Arte". Cornel MacNeil is impressive as Scarpia and Pavarotti sings impressively although his acting does not match that of Domingo and Kaufmann.
Outside an opera house Tosca is the subject of two good opera films. The best is a 1976 version with Domingo and the seriously beautiful Raina Kabaivanska in the title role. Scarpia is expertly played by Sherril Milnes. Benoit Jacquot's film of 2001 benefits from the definite chemistry between
Angela Cheorghiu and Roberto Alagna and another excellent Scarpia in Ruggero Raimondi. Some reviewers consider the black and white footage of the actual recording session a disadvantage as it breaks up the continuity of the film.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 March 2015
This compares favourably with the BBC filmed version with some pros and cons. Always preferred is live performance, whilst the filmed version gets dispensation to a degree, with filmed live sessions and scenes which cannot easily be staged. Although Terfel, as Scarpia, comes over as creepy, he doesn't carry the menace of Raimondi in the film. Gheorghiu, in her own words, likes camera and it shows in her much greater expression for the filmed version. In some respects she doesn't act this part because she firmly believes that she is Tosca and who could doubt her. I think that she appears, rightly, more at ease with romanticism when playing opposite to her husband.
Her husband Alagna, I feel is a much under rated tenner, but carries the role as a weaker victim in the filmed version. Kaufmann in contrast comes over as a wilful insurgent and the depth of his tenor, almost baritone, voice carries this message with conviction.
Other than that, I have enjoyed both versions.