Anja Harteros, Aleksandrs Antonenko, Ludovic Tézier, Andrea Mastroni; Bachchor Salzburg; Staatskapelle Dresden/Christian Thielemann; dir. Michael Sturminger (Salzburg, 2018)
C major DVD: 748308; Blu-ray: 748404 120 mins
It’s a moot point whether all Puccini operas update well, and Tosca can seem rather tied to its specific historical period. References to Bonaparte’s victory raise an eyebrow or two in Michael Sturminger’s production for the 2018 Salzburg Easter Festival, relocated to present-day Rome. Get beyond such qualms, however, and this production does a fine job of underlining just what a resonant opera Tosca is for our times.
Sturminger’s sets are not so different from those in a standard Tosca, at least for the first two acts, but costumes and directorial details bring the action up to date. Psychological realism is to the fore. Scarpia is a mafia godfather made doubly sinister by the fact that he could pass for your boss: a white-haired, bespectacled, overweight businessman in a cheap suit who likes to ride his exercise bike before indulging in casual workplace harassment. Ludovic Tézier eschews the usual pantomime-villain approach for something more subtle: utterly commanding of voice yet cold behind the eyes. Anja Harteros is a chic, grown-up, no-nonsense Tosca who literally wears the trousers. She is on top form vocally, particularly rich in the dramatic chest register yet also giving us an utterly serene ‘Vissi d’arte’ that for once doesn’t seem like an interruption to the action. Aleksandrs Antonenko as a smock-clad Cavaradossi is a weaker presence both dramatically and musically; his periodically wavering intonation is particularly disconcerting. Christian Thielemann and the Staatskapelle Dresden provide sympathetic support to the proceedings.
Nobody in this production is likeable; everyone is controlling someone else. Sturminger’s use of children in the action intensifies the opera’s darkest shades: most shocking is the forcible use of boys from a disreputable Catholic boarding school to do the mafia stooges’ dirty work. This is a bitter-chocolate thriller of a production, with a hell of a plot twist at the end.