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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A squalid little shocker, 2 Jan. 2010
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This review is from: Tosca - Puccini [1976] [DVD] [2005] [NTSC] (DVD)
As is well known, this was Bernard Shaw's description of the play by Sardou upon which this opera is based. And to be truly successful a performance of Tosca should be just that. If this DVD isn't wholly successful it is not for want of trying and there are very many good things in it.

Operas on DVD come in two main categories: they are either recordings of actual stage performances or (for lack of a better expression) "films". The advantage of a film is that the director has more freedom to interpret the action, and make it more realistic. This is a mixed blessing - after all in real life characters don't go around singing to each other!

Tosca is an opera which is well suited to a filmic approach. As opera plots go it is all too plausible. The action takes place precisely on 16/17 June 1800, and the historical background is correct (Even if Sardou had got that wrong Puccini, always a stickler for detail, would have corrected him. The composer researched the setting of the Te Deum which would have been sung in 1800 for use by him at the end of Act I. He climbed to the top of the Castel early one morning so that he could hear the bells sounding across Rome and correctly incorporate them into the Prelude to Act III. And he also insisted on altering the ending because it would be physically impossible to jump from the Castel Sant'Angelo to the Tiber - as Sardou had implied in his play.)

Having said that Puccini was pedantic over detail it is a pity that in this film there are a few details which could have been improved (caution: contains spoilers. If anyone doesn't want to know the plot they should skip the rest of this paragraph!). If Tosca thinks she has stabbed Scarpia through the heart she has a woeful lack of knowledge of anatomy. And whilst the last thing I would want would be a blood-fest there is very little from Scarpia's fatal wound. As indeed there is on Cavaradossi's face after he has been tortured: after all, according to Scarpia, the blood "is spurting from his temples". And the colour of the blood looks all wrong, too. Now this might not matter so much in a stage performance but this film is supposed to be fairly realistic. I wouldn't have thought that in 1976, when the recording was made, a little more blood would have given viewers a fit of the vapours. And, whilst on a sadistic note, Cavaradossi's cries of agony sound quite tame compared with those I have heard in some other performances. Finally, at the end of Act II, Tosca is supposed not only to place a crucifix on Scarpia's chest (which she does) but also place two lighted candles by the side of his head. In this performance she doesn't do so - why not?

That's enough criticism. In almost every other way this is a wonderful production. Domingo and Kabaivanska, as Cavaradossi and Tosca, are outstanding both in their singing, appearance, and acting. All of the other characters are good as well. Sherrill Milnes does not look evil, but then his Scarpia is a real person, not a pantomime villain. We often see things which couldn't be included in a stage production, like when characters enter or leave buildings, and the camera from time to time lingers briefly on the beautiful buildings and skyline of Rome. But this is never overdone, and only serves to enhance the action. The director does not try to be "clever" or over-interpret what is a strong story line.

So this is a very recommendable performance: not perfect, but then (as I have commented elsewhere) nothing is perfect. In my opinion it is much better than the generally-well-thought-of Alagna/Gheorghiu version which, apart from all else, suffers from some poor lip-synch and is ruined by the interpolation of some black-and-white sequences of the singers in the studio.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 1 Apr 2013, 12:31:32 BST
I think that it was Joseph Kerman who described Tosca as "a shabby little shocker". Which, of course, it is. So why do I love it?

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Nov 2014, 18:49:35 GMT
Because you're not a strait-laced puritanical moralist like him? And realise that if all art were 'improving' the world would be a dull place?

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Nov 2014, 10:23:54 GMT
Really, it was a rhetorical question, but the only answer I thought might come up was "Because you've got execrable taste". I much prefer your answer, so thank you - I'll use it when defending my love of this work.
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Location: Shropshire, England

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