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4.5 out of 5 stars
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4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 26 September 2016
Bryn Terfel probably creates the greatest interpretation of the role of Scarpia since the days of the part being played by Tito Gobbi. Terfel conveys terror, fright and pure evil. Angela Gheorghiu and Jonas Kaufman along with Antonio Pappano leading the ROH Orchestra make this the perfect 'Tosca'
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This recording of Tosca created from performances on July 14 and 17 in 2011 brings together artists of considerable renown for a short run. These are Angela Gheorghiu as Tosca, Jonas Kaufmann as Cavaradossi and Bryn Terfel as Scarpia. To these must be added the considerable expertise of the conductor, Antonio Pappano. The production by Jonathan Kent has become a staple fixture in the Royal Opera repertoire and is unashamedly `traditional' in its concept.

The combination of such talents raised expectations that something very special could be achieved. As one who has a number of recordings by all of these artists, I can honestly state that, in my opinion, none of them has delivered anything finer individually and that this combination has resulted in a recording of Tosca that is gripping from start to finish and may well have exceeded even the most optimistic hopes of all concerned.

It must be made clear from the start that this is certainly not the performance that anyone other than purchasers of this disc will have seen as this is a combination of two performances, and presumably the best of each, uniquely available on this disc. Others attending the same production will crucially have heard different combinations of the cast so are not in a position to comment about this particular disc. Even attenders of either of these two nights or those who watched the TV broadcast will still not have experienced this particular edited product. The editing is seamlessly done so the whole final product runs as if it was one live uninterrupted performance.

The production, as mentioned above, is traditional but very well observed and convincing. The slowed down, and thus more chilling, entry of the execution squad in act 3 would be one of many examples of dramatic flair. Perhaps the most controversial part is the decision to show Scarpia in an unkempt guise as that would not fit with a serial womaniser. There is another interpretation of this though. Scarpia's libretto makes it clear that he is not interested in wooing any woman but simply exults in his power over them. What better way to reinforce this than to show his utter contempt additionally through his personal appearance? Any woman thus abused would feel doubly defiled.

This is a more theatrical production than the fine Verona alternative which was effectively tailored to a much larger canvas. In more general terms, this new recording appropriately offers a more intimate and more subtle rendering of the opera in countless ways throughout and which can only be briefly touched on in a short review such as this and as follows:

The outstanding contribution of Pappano and his orchestra cannot be overstated. This is a very flexible account of pace, phrasing and dynamics creating great emotional contrasts. Moments of chilling or dramatic power are contrasted with swiftly following gentle and sensitive passages. Everything is tailored exactly to the drama being played out on stage. A small example of this detailed attention to precise coordination, just as you would expect with a ballet, can be observed after Scarpia's death as Tosca places the two candles by Scarpia before exiting. The very moment that each candlestick bottom touches the floor is precisely accompanied by a soft woodwind chord. Tempo is withheld throughout this sequence as it is performed in free-time and the effect is extraordinarily powerful. Other performances simply are not this accurate.

The main cast is of the highest calibre, although there have always been those who do not warm to Gheorghiu as either a singer or as an actor. In my opinion she is on superb form here and delivers an astonishing degree of passion, either in full voice or sotto voce. The tingle factor was high for both me and my wife. Bryn Terfel manages outshines his earlier fine performance of Scarpio under Riccardo Chailly. He exudes evil and has just the voice and body mass to match the intentions of Scarpia as he effortlessly towers over both of his victims. This seemed to be casting against type with the earlier Dutch recording but, even thus prepared, I have been struck by the development in the role. This must almost be definitive. Jonas Kaufmann has the enviable ability to really live his part while delivering singing of tonal magnificence. This has led him to considerable world renown which is fully justified here. His voice has a similar tonal silkiness to my ears to that of Gheorghiu's and thus makes an ideal vocal match between the two. In addition, both Gheorghiu and Kaufmann have the right degrees of physical attraction and relative ages that make this a dramatically convincing coupling thus reinforcing the effectiveness of the drama.

The supporting roles are equally effective. The Sacristan, well sung and acted by Jeremy White, has far more character than usual. Little details like his tongue protruding as he concentrates all add to the impression of a subordinate character that could easily be controlled by Scarpia. Lucas Jakobski's Angelotti is also more strongly drawn than usual which is in line with his dramatic role as a suspected revolutionary. Hubert Francis, as a slim Spoletta, brings a level of vindictive evil to match that of the far larger physical presence of Terfel.

The camera work is totally engrossing and fully engages with the production. The imaging achieves a state-of the-art HD crispness and colour definition. The sound spectacularly captures the outstanding performance of the orchestra and the balance of the singers seems excellent to me. The sound is presented in DTS 5.1 and stereo. There is an 8 minute introduction included which is well presented by Pappano.

This is a star-studied production and has obviously aimed high. In my opinion it has hit all the targets and now stands as an outstanding modern version to join the fine but totally different modern production at Verona plus other fine recordings from previous generations. The audience were justifiably and wildly enthusiastic at Covent Garden in my opinion with a marked absence of the famed English reserve! On that basis, coupled with my own personal responses, I would expect most purchasers of this disc to be equally enthusiastic and therefore a 5 star rating seems totally reasonable. This will not be a disc for those who do not respond to this sort of production or these singers of course, but that is not the remit of this review.

........................................

Some dialogue from the comments section that may offer further help:

Hi Ian
Just ordered this for Christmas !
Colette (see below)

Keep on writing reviews, please, this is just well done. Greetings.. (see below)
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 22 October 2012
Short Version - This is in my opinion going to be the best version most people will want to own. There are many 'Tosca' productions available on DVD and a couple of good blu-ray versions however this ROH production features an excellent cast and delivers a high quality transfer with pin sharp Hi Def images and superb sound on both PCM 2.1 and 5.1 surround. I did have to alter some of the settings of my LG BD550 player to get the best picture, however there were no such issues playing it back on my PC which has a more up to date player. The recording is made from the best of two performances but there is a seamless transition and it looks just like one continuous performance. Also included is the excellent 'Tosca an Introduction' presented by Antonio Pappano. If you saw the original BBC broadcast or were lucky enough to see the actual production live then you will love this. If you are looking to own a 'Tosca' maybe your first version, then this is the one.

Bonus feature - about 10 minutes long this is an introduction to the opera by Pappano with some shots from rehearsals.

Note: The 2.1 Stereo soundtrack has a fault during the final curtain calls with the audio stopping as Bryn Terfel enters, this fault is not on the 5.1 audio track.

Longer Version - Of the many versions of Tosca available all including this one, have flaws. I own 5 versions from the Tosca [1961] [DVD] 1961 Renata Tebaldi, through to the Puccini: Tosca [Blu-ray] [2011] which is currently under £8 and the best value blu-ray version. This ROH is in my opinion the best overall. It brings together a wondeful cast who not only sound superb but also look the part. Anyone who thinks voice alone will carry a modern production is out of touch, the performers also have to look the part and Gheorghiu, Kaufmann and Terfel do so.

Staging - I cannot understand some of the comments about this as it is now six years after Jonathan Kent's production of Tosca for the Royal Opera House replaced the beloved Franco Zeffirelli staging. Its not like the ROH went BOO!! here's a surprise new production and shocked everyone on the night of the recording. Again most normal people will love this staging and will not even know what all the fuss is about. OK so it is conventional but what is wrong with that?

Jonas Kaufmann - was for me the star of this performance not only for his beautiful voice with such amazing colour and expressiveness but also for his acting. He is totally absorbing and completely believable. Undoubtedly the finest all round tenor singing today he matches for me Pavarotti (in singing) in the 1978 Metropolitan Opera production with Shirly Verrett but with the advantage that he is normal size and not the huge mass of big Lucy.

Angela Gheorghiu - again looks the part, you can imagine her turning men's heads and hearts. Her acting is not up to Kaufmann's standards but isn't too bad and certainly much better than some of the 'wooden' acting of past greats. Angela is like marmite in that some love her (I do) but others always seem to find something to criticize about her performances. Maybe its because of her comparison to Maria Callas? which seems to be driven by her record company. If I had to rate my Tosca's that I have seen either in full or part performances on film just on their vocal delivery then it would be Tebaldi, Callas, Caballé, then Gheorghiu/Verrett However in combination with acting and 'believablity' then Gheorghiu would be first. As much as I absolutely adore Renata Tebaldi I am afraid in the 1961 productions on DVD she looks like an old tramp in comparison to Angela in this production. The others also have their issues that require you to stretch your imagination somewhat.

Bryn Terfel - frightened me and I spent most of my life in the army. He looks just like the evil monster he is supposed to be. Certainly he wouldn't be out of place as the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Vocally he is excellent, he fits in well with Kaufmann and Gheorghiu and rounds off this excellent cast. Some people don't care for Bryn but I tend to be one of those who buy anything that has his name on - CD or DVD as I have never been disappointed. Is he the best ever? no there have been better vocal performances and even a couple of better acting performances but where Bryn scores is that he brings these two together better than any of the others I have in my collection. I do have a soft spot for George London's performance.

Antonio Pappano - is one of the finest conductors ever to come out of the United Kingdom. This is especially true of his delivery of Puccini where he seems to be able to extract something extra out of the score that I haven't heard from other conductors. His conducting of this production is up to his usual high standard, delivering a dynamic, flowing and focused performance that is as good as any I have heard either on CD or DVD.

All of the above of course is just my opinion and I know some of it isn't shared either with amazon reviewers or reviews of the actual performance. My only recommendation is that if amazon continue to sell this blu-ray for the £20 currently being asked then buy the DVD version instead, having seen both I can tell you that the blu-ray is not worth the extra £8.
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This highly traditional production, splendidly sung by it's impressive leads in this wonderfully detailed blu ray transfer with excellent sound is only marred by occasional directorial clunkiness. Jonas Kaufmann is musically and dramatically outstanding. Terfel is also impressive but Angela Gheorghiu suffers from being given some very awkward direction at the end of Act Two which undercuts the emotional impact of her vocally outstanding performance. The high def makes it very clear there is a problem over the stabbing of Scarpia too and his subsequent "blood loss" or, initially, lack of it then followed by Gheorghiu's valiant attempt to deal with the technical problem, is faintly comic. Similarly a rather strange set design for Act Three (no that object in the sky isn't an asteroid, it's the giant wing of the stone angel!) and once more some rather clunky direction reappears, where even Kaufmann suffers through his required, albeit brief, silly gestures when he assumes he is to be saved ( totally out of place for both the moment and character)and this is compounded by some peculiar business with the soldiers (half naked washing??) at the start of the scene as well. However, these are minor caveats as, overall, it's still a very impressive evening, as is clearly supported by the understandably jubilant Garden audience and do not detract from a 5 star rating!
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on 7 November 2014
This was wonderful and spell-binding entertainment for the full two hours. It had a great story line, great characters, wonderful costumes & sets.
The singing and music were also truly lovely, the acting was top drawer – what else could you ask for?
Angela Gheorghiu just oozed a woman in need of love, and so willing to give it back. Bryn Terfel as Scarpia was for me, not far behind in being the star of the show – his performance was utterly awesome. Now that’s what a nasty ‘baddy’ should be like? Jonas Kaufmann (Mario) too came across perfectly as the unlucky love interest for the rather clingy Tosca!
This rates up there with the best as far as I am concerned. I just loved it. If I could give this 6 stars I would!
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on 10 May 2013
This production from Covent Garden, clearly demonstrates that good opera is still alive! Having suffered recently through a number of terrible performances world-wide, especially in the hands of some incredibly bad stage directors, this Tosca comes as a reassurance that one can still see a good performance these days.
Angela Georguiu, in spite of her years, can still deliver a full fire in the role of the jealous singer, who unwillingly betrays her lover. Her acting is good and generally her performance is better than most I have seen recently. She comes nowhere near matching Callas, but that is another story.
Jonas Kaufmann is a superb Cavaradossi. Brilliant vocally and at the same time, an excellent actor. On previous DVDs Placido Domingo is probably more convincing and as far as CDs go Giuseppe di Stefano is in a different league altogether.
Bryn Terfel is vocally a very good Scarpia, menacing and full of the right gestures. Visually, the un-shaven Bryn is not very convincing as the Baron. Again he is no match for Tito Gobbi.
Antonio Pappano is by no means an inspired conductor. Again listen to de Sabata, in the EMI CD with Callas, di Stefano and Gobbi, to see the difference. That performance is unfortunately only preserved in sound, no vision. The Callas – Gobbi performance from Covent Garden from 1964, does provide us with a glimpse of what a truly great performance was like, but the image and sound quality there leave a lot to be desired even for the mid 1960’s.
The image and sound quality of this blu-ray production of Tosca is really superb. Worth buying.
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on 18 October 2015
From the moment Kaufmann comes on stage this rendition takes off and Gheorghiu is marvellous too. Terfel is amazingly sinister and Pappano wonderfully sensitive to the score. Picture and sound quality almost take one to Covent Garden, which I could never affored to go to. I'm not a great lover of Italian opera but I'm glad I decided on this rather than either of the two 'on location' versions which I also considered. In stereo the sound stops during the closing bows but otherwise the blu ray is excellent - and so far I've only watched it on tv, yet to pipe it through my hi fi.
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on 20 January 2013
AG's story is very much like that of Tosca herself, a soprano who's found fame. So she is really playing herself.
The cast in this production is superb, Jonas Kaufmann makes a believable Cavaradossi and sings accurately and with strength, he has conquered Donizzetti and am convinced he will also tackle Wagner soon.
Bryn Terfel is magnificent as the evil Scarpia and his voice carries the nuances of tormented soul.
Pappano lets the music flow effortlessly, a wonderful cooperation between ROH and the BBC.
On a par with the Tosca production broadcast live from the real locations in Rome with Placido Domingo some years ago.
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on 4 October 2012
Bryn Terfel is one of the finest singer/actors on the stage today, and his portrayal of Scarpia is masterley; the best I've ever seen ... and I've seen a lot! In fact, the casting is ideal, whilst Pappano's conducting is, as always, right on the money. The production is 'traditional' and very powerful.

There are many DVDs of Tosca on the market, but this is the best by a country mile.
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on 7 June 2013
Superb performances from all concerned, particularly Terfel. Gorgeous disc, excellent production-- TRUE to the CORRECT TIME PERIOD ("Tosca" takes place on a specific date in Rome in the year 1800) and gorgeous singing all around! This is the one to own today!
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