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NOT EVEN CARSEN CAN SPOIL THIS TOSCA
on 7 April 2011
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.