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Customer Review

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A star-studied presentation that fully deserves a starry rating, 26 Oct. 2012
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This review is from: Puccini: Tosca (Royal Opera House 2011) [Blu-ray] [2012] (Blu-ray)
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)


A note to the anonymous negative voters:

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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 2 Nov 2012 15:26:30 GMT
Mrs Pisaroni says:
Hi Ian
Just ordered this for Christmas !

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Nov 2012 22:52:05 GMT
I. Giles says:
Hi Colette,
I'm sure this will be a much loved Christmas present. Happy viewing!

Posted on 23 Nov 2013 15:42:14 GMT
Keep on writing reviews, please, this is just well done. Greetings.

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Nov 2013 16:14:57 GMT
I. Giles says:
Dear Filipazzi, Thanks for your support. The quick answer is because I am in front of the PC writing reviews! Best wishes, Ian Giles.

Posted on 27 May 2014 23:40:16 BDT
With ref. your final comments about negative voters:
As far as I understand it, voting opinions have to be anonymous, whether positive or negative, another system would be unworkable. Should voters really be required to give their reasons ?

It's a funny old world, so please don't forget that even the most excellent reviews can sometimes be thought "unhelpful". The reader might be suffering incurable indigestion. I might disagree totally with a negative vote, but I would defend to the death that person's right to vote it.

The ranking etc, worked out by Amazon for Reviewers, and reviews, is very distracting. Any single review should preferably stand or fall by its own qualities, independent of the reactions of others, and most of us can pretty quickly see if any review is likely to be useful (or not). Thanks for yours.

In reply to an earlier post on 28 May 2014 07:41:21 BDT
I. Giles says:
I have no problem with anonymous votes, but negatives need to be explained to be useful. It is only in this way that both reviewers and readers will be able to understand the problem. After all, reviewers should give reasons for their viewpoint, so why not those who disagree? Best wishes, Ian Giles.
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