Puccini: Tosca

COMPOSERS: Puccini
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: Puccini
WORKS: Tosca
PERFORMER: Catherine Malfitano, Bryn Terfel, Richard Margison, Mario Luperi; Royal Concertgebouw/Riccardo Chailly; dir. Mikolaus Lehnhoff (TV, 1998)
CATALOGUE NO: 074 3201 (NTSC system; dts 5.1; 16:9 picture ratio)
This exciting DVD documents Bryn Terfel’s debut in the role of Scarpia, the sadistic and lubricious police chief who tries to bed the glamorous diva in return for freeing her revolutionary lover Cavaradossi. Terfel is brilliant in the part here, much more than he was at the Royal Opera last year, and that despite the production’s being in several ways perverse and puzzling. The opera is set not in three Roman locations, but in what the producer calls Death Traps, not belonging to any particular period but characteristic of what you see at Amsterdam’s Muziektheater. Costumes are a mixture of the traditional (Tosca’s), the nondescript (Cavaradossi’s) and the bizarre (Scarpia’s, he seem to be dressed as a silver lizard in Act II). There is a huge flight of stairs used extensively in Act I; the chorus never appears, which lessens the impact of the end of that Act considerably.

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Still, the main conflict is played out between Scarpia, Tosca and the orchestra. It’s a luxury to hear the Royal Concertgebouw in Puccini – one he deserves. Catherine Malfitano is an experienced Tosca, though unchivalrously I must report that she looks rather old, and sometimes sounds it; but she gives her all, and proves a match for Bryn’s terrifyingly strong and insidious Scarpia. Richard Margison is no distinguished artist but he doesn’t spoil things as Cavaradossi. Riccardo Chailly gives an account of the score which is fresh without being peculiar. Michael Tanner