I'm no great opera expert, but I like Tosca, and am trying to see as many versions as possible. I prefer the 2001 film version by Benoit, but this one is still very fine. I realize that as a stage production, it would have to be quite different from a "movie" of the opera, and though it has its necessary limitations, it also has some quite lovely compensations. The set design is stunning; the conclusion of Act I is like seeing David's painting of Napoleon crowning Josephine brought to life. Even seeing it on TV is spectacular - I can only imagine what it was like to actually be there in the theater. (I hope they used real incense and not dry ice - it's not often you can almost *smell* an opera through the screen!) Placido Domingo is really great as Cavaradossi - he's so virile and appealing, you really can imagine him being ready to fight his way past opponents when he and Angelotti escape from the church. Cornell MacNeil is not my idea of Scarpia, but I find his performance grows on me the more I watch it. I was spoiled by Ruggero Raimondi's excellent acting when he played Scarpia, and MacNeil is a bit stolid in comparison. He is a little too jolly to be frightening; Raimondi brought out truly scary undertones of rage and disappointment in the character, whereas MacNeil is more of a politician and a bon vivant. He is suitably repulsive, though, when he actually caresses Tosca - you do get a feeling that the ordeal she's facing is unendurable, and it provides a nice buildup to the violence that follows. Hildegard Behrens is likewise a bit stiff through most of the opera, though I think part of it, again, is just the necessary limitations of live performance. What with having to face towards an audience and do all the exertion required for singing, it's just not reasonable to expect really energetic fighting, struggling and racing about. But it's all compensated by her terrific acting at the end of Act II. From the moment she whirls about and stabs Scarpia, Behrens is just blazing with fury and passion. She practically screams at him 'Questo e il baccio di Tosca!' and I almost thought she was going to lunge forward and stab him again. I was so spellbound by her performance throughout that passage, when it was all over and quiet again, and she'd managed to pry from his dead fingers the safe-conduct for herself and Mario, it was a jolt to hear her SING the words, 'E avanti a lui tremava tutta Roma!' I was so drawn into the drama at that point, I'd forgotten I was watching an opera.
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