Tosca is my favourite Puccini opera and one of my favourite operas of all time as well. So naturally I would be both excited and apprehensive. This Tosca is not my favourite Tosca of all the ones I've seen, that's a tie between the performances from 1976 with Kabaivanska, Domingo and Milnes(the one that introduced me to the opera and made me a Milnes fan coincidentally) and 1992 with Malfitano, Domingo and Raimondi, however it has three great leads and even with the flaws is far better than the 2009 Met production with Mattila the performance with Cura and the production with Guleghina.
I found the flaws with this Zurich Tosca to be with the production values and some of the staging. Now in these regards, this production is not the worst in either of these categories, but I've found them to be better elsewhere. The sets in general are too sparse especially in Act 1 where it can work as either beautiful or sinister but while not the worst looking Tosca I've seen, sparse has never been my idea of how the sets should be. I admit I missed the authenticity of the 1976 and 1992 productions and the elaborate splendour of the 1985 Met performance. The costumes are a mixed bag, I liked Cavaradossi's and Scarpia's but Tosca's in Act 2 is unflattering.
As for the staging, it certainly doesn't make the mistake of being unsubtle or potentially offensive like the 2009 Met or as dull as the Cura or Guleghina performances. In fact most of it is very compelling and moving, a vast majority of Act 2 actually sizzles with suspense. Also at least I understood the concept and what Carsen wanted to do, which was this interesting play within a play sort of idea, which is more than I can say for the 2009 Met production. However there are some touches that didn't work for me at the hands of Robert Carsen. I found that Carsen made Tosca too much of a Prima Donna, and she also seemed to treat Cavaradossi like a conquest, not truly loving him. Coming from someone who thinks that Tosca is a very passionate woman who is genuinely in love and would do anything for him, this approach to the staging made me feel genuinely sorry for Cavaradossi and doesn't make Tosca as humanistic as she should be.
However, musically it is more than satisfying. The orchestral playing is powerful in Act 2 and nuanced for E Lucevan E Le Stelle and for the divine cello ensemble. The horn section are in tune and well blended for the Act 3 opening, and the strings-dominated Tosca-Cavaradossi "love theme" before the Te Deum is positively sweeping. The conducting helps with all this, always being alert and focused and the chorus while not as prominent as in other operas, Tosca by all means is a very principal based opera, sing and act in the chillingly beautiful Te Deum very well.
For me, it is not a successful Tosca without three solid(at least) leads. And I found all three of them great here, the biggest plaudits going to the truly magnificent Cavaradossi of Jonas Kaufmann, the best since Domingo in my opinion. His voice is of a dark baritonal timbre, perhaps not the most Italianate of sounds, but very beautiful and used with great artistry. Listen to how he sings S'Affisa Intero...Occhio All'Amor Soave without taking a breath between and also pianissimo-ing into the word Occhio, something which I have heard few tenors sing and so well too. The fact that he is ardent in Act 1, arrogant/steadfast in Act 2 and poignant in Act 3, coupled with those handsome looks he has, makes it altogether a thrilling performance.
Thomas Hampson surprised me. Not because I don't like Hampson, actually I do, but I worried that his voice would be too light for a role that I hear darker and more authoritative voices sing. However, he does sing beautifully, even with the odd moment where he is underpowered, and uses the voice with intelligence. Almost as if he knew that Scarpia was not a role he would typically sing, but the conscientious artist he is he still gave it his all. Dramatically as well as being dangerous, corrupt and manipulative, he is suave and elegant, which I think helps to give the subtlety Scarpia, one of the most taxing and complex baritone roles in opera, needs. I love his disdain at being put off his supper, and the visual gag with him smoking a cigarette despite a sign saying Smoking Prohibited.
Emily Magee I was apprehensive about, considering it was her role debut, but I liked her very much, and her size didn't bother me at all. She didn't thrill me in the way Kaufmann and Hampson did, and Carsen, as well as making her do things like lying down and dressing down to her slip that I didn't feel she was entirely comfortable doing, in trying to strengthen the chemistry between Tosca and Scarpia, is to blame for that mainly. However she still makes for a passionate and moving Tosca,especially in Vissi D'Arte, and sings powerfully, even with an occasionally too wide vibrato, and musically. Apart from in the Act 1 duet where they are literally all over each other, her chemistry with Kaufmann is not quite as convincing as it is with Hampson, but it is hardly non-existent either.
Zurich's production of Tosca has good performances in the secondary roles, including a slimy Spoletta, a humble Sacristan and a melodramatic(but not too much) Angelotti, to boot. Overall, a solid Tosca, that is worth seeing for the musical values, mostly compelling drama and the cast especially Kaufmann. The production values, a couple of staging touches and how Tosca was perceived could have been better, but as I have mentioned earlier it has been worse elsewhere. While not my first choice, I recommend it. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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