Puccini: Tosca

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2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Puccini
LABELS: TDK
ALBUM TITLE: Puccini
WORKS: Tosca
PERFORMER: Maria Guleghina, Salvatore Licitra, Leo Nucci; La Scala Chorus & Orchestra/ Riccardo Muti; dir. Luca Ronconi (La Scala, Milan, 2000)
CATALOGUE NO: DV-OPTOS
Incredibly, La Scala’s current music director had never actually conducted Puccini’s opera in the theatre until this centenary-year revival in March 2000. Perhaps he needed more practice. Much of the orchestral playing is beautiful, but dynamics are often extreme, tension frequently gets lost amid the detail, and the tempi are sometimes tricky for the singers to follow. With a CD version of the soundtrack already available on Sony, interest in this DVD centres on seeing the Cavaradossi of the young (31 at time of recording) Swiss-born Italian tenor Salvatore Licitra, dubbed the new Top Tenor when he replaced an indisposed Pavarotti in what should have been the older singer’s farewell performance at the New York Metropolitan Opera last year. He’s not that, of course, though perhaps he’d improved a bit in the two years between this Tosca and that unscheduled Met debut. On this showing, he certainly has potential, but he’s an unformed artist as yet: his tone is more burly than burnished, his phrasing lacks individuality, and he tends to sing too loudly and not always securely; if not exactly vulgar, his style is distinctly more emphatic than elegant.

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But maybe he was just playing up to Maria Guleghina’s over-the-top Tosca? Her ‘Vissi d’arte’ is a caricature of sobbing, sighing, hand-wringing, bosom-clutching histrionics. As for her silent-movie-style double-take and virtual triple somersault on spotting the knife on Scarpia’s dining table, she couldn’t have seemed more shocked if she’d just realised he’d ordered fish, not steak, for supper. With Leo Nucci’s dried-out old stick of a Scarpia – devoid of either Machiavellian menace or lecherous lubricity – there’s precious little dramatic charge, erotic or otherwise, flowing between these three principals.

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Luca Ronconi’s routine staging is no help: the would-be symbolic backcloths may be all skew-whiff perspective, as if Rome’s ancient architecture has suffered a bad attack of the Salvador Dalís, but the furniture in the foreground is all too solid, the costumes are standard off-the-peg ‘period’ wear and the acting is of the usual naturalistic kind. The cameras highlight lots of ludicrous details, starting with Cavaradossi’s canvas, a Page 3-style take on the Virgin Mary that is more likely to have this particular Tosca ordering him to alter the size of her breast implants than the colour of her eyes. TDK’s booklet notes are inadequate; the only ‘special feature’ is a soundcheck to see if your DVD is wired up properly to your hi-fi. Mark Pappenheim