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A Sumptuous Staging of Tosca at the Verona Arena
on 24 November 2007
The main selling point of this production of Puccini's 'Tosca' is the luxurious staging at the Arena di Verona, an outdoor theater built into the ruins of a public building dating from 30 AD. The stage is huge and the scenery needs to be huge as well for it to work effectively. And in this production it certainly does that. The stage is dominated by enormous broken statues of a noble Roman head and of its arm holding a sword and a crucifix. This is somehow transformed into the interior of the church in Act I, Scarpia's headquarters in Act II and the scene in which Cavaradossi is killed and Tosca leaps to her death in Act III. Act I features an enormous painting on which the painter Cavaradossi is working; it stands at least twenty feet high. And, without giving the coup de théâtre away, it figures in Scarpia's dramatic entrance late in that act. The costumes, too, are rich, colorful and appropriate to the era circa 1800 in which the opera is set. Tosca's and Scarpia's costumes must have cost a fortune. The stage direction is fluid and telling without interfering with the action. Both the intimate moments and the crowd scenes are packed with interesting details. Someone entirely unfamiliar with the opera's plot would have no difficulty following the stage action. There are no liberties in which some European opera directors have indulged themselves except for one small, not bothersome solecism: the shepherd boy at the beginning of Act III is, instead, a little boy with a fishing pole sitting on the bank of, presumably, the Tiber into which Tosca latter jumps.
Musically there is more to argue with. There are many DVD Toscas available, and this one is a notch below the best of them. I am particularly fond of the two that feature Plácido Domingo: the one with Raina Kabaivanska and Sherrill Milnes, and the other with Hildegard Behrens and Cornell MacNeil. In the present performance Fiorenza Cedolins is not in her best voice and although she portrays the drama effectively, there is a rough edge to the voice that is bothersome. Marcelo Álvarez as Cavaradossi is in better voice but his acting is rather routine, I fear. Ruggero Raimondi has always been a very good Scarpia, but in this 2006 performance he is sixty-five years old and the voice is worn. Dramatically his Scarpia is malevolence personified, although I prefer MacNeil's dramatic portrayal. A find, for me, was Marco Spotti as Angelotti. He's a tall, good-looking man, a good actor with a baritone that rings with metal and fire.
Musical direction by Daniel Oren and both the orchestra and chorus are good. They are given excellent recorded sound. Stage lighting, difficult in an open arena like Verona, is creative and effective. Videography is expert and unobtrusive.
Sound formats: DD 5.1, DTS 5.1, LPCM stereo; Picture format: 16:9 anamorphic, NTSC; Subtitles: English, German, French, Italian, Spanish; Liner notes: English, German, French; Region code: 0 (worldwide); Disc format: DVD9; Running time: 119 mins. No extras.