Puccini: Tosca

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Puccini
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Tosca
PERFORMER: Karita Mattila, David Pittsinger, Paul Plishka, Marcelo Álvarez, George Gagnidze, Joel Sorensen, James Courtney, Jonathan Makepeace, Keith Miller; The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus/Joseph Colaneri; dir. Luc Bondy (New York, 2009)
CATALOGUE NO: 641 9739 5

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This performance is of the new production by Luc Bondy, the most striking feature of which is the austerity of the designs, a reaction against 25 years of Zeffirellian elaborateness. Bondy is interviewed by Susan Graham in the second interval, but the atmosphere of breathless banality prevents him from saying anything helpful.

Anyway, the production is pretty self-explanatory: the pervasiveness of pain, primarily physical but also psychological, is underlined throughout, though Marcelo Álvarez is a Cavaradossi who can’t help being cheerful. An amiable singer, he rarely produces sounds softer than fortissimo, and like all Cavaradossis, he belts out his Act I aria, which is marked specifically pp and p until the last three bars. 

George Gagnidze, a Georgian, is an extraordinarily repulsive Scarpia, surrounded by even more repellent sidekicks – one of them is so utterly exhausted by torturing Cavaradossi that he almost collapses, possibly with laughter. This Scarpia has three courtesans to attend to his needs while he waits to rape Tosca: but he gets his comeuppance, the knife being plunged in places too indecent to be detailed here in a family magazine. 

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Karita Mattila has decided to sing no more Toscas, which may be wise: she has to resort too often to a baleful chest register, and her acting, especially her facial expressions, is so far over the top as to become comic, eliciting quite loud laughs from the audience. The conducting is too leisurely in the outer acts, but tense and brutal in Act II. There are several more rewarding Toscas on DVD. Michael Tanner