Karine Babajanyan, Piotr Beczała, Carlos Álvarez; Vienna State Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Marco Armiliato; dir. Margarethe Wallmann (Vienna, 2019)
C Major DVD: 759108; Blu-ray: 759204 129 mins
Magarethe Wallman’s traditional – that is, conservative – approach to Puccini’s melodrama clearly suits the Viennese audience. Wallmann bypasses the politics that recent productions have explored: a freedom fighter who is an artist, a venal police chief and an abused woman driven to murder.
This Tosca is a vehicle for three star singers and Ella Gallieni’s video production focuses on Cavaradossi, Tosca and Scarpia, bathing the rest of the action in shadows. Rome after Buonaparte’s victory at Marengo is indeed a dark place. The costumes are ‘properly’ period too, although Carlos Álvarez’s improbable wig turns his Scarpia into a first cousin of Lewis Carroll’s Frog Footman.
Álvarez is an old hand at curdling the blood, and Cavaradossi’s torture is repellent. As Tosca – standing in for an indisposed Nina Stemme – Karine Babajanyan bears an uncanny resemblance to Callas. Her plaintive lyric voice is appealing but she rarely unleashes her stage tigress even when she all but butchers Scarpia. But it’s the Polish tenor Piotr Beczała’s Cavaradossi that the audience have paid to hear. His ‘Recondite armonia’ is tentative but by the time we reach ‘E lucevan le stelle’ he really delivers. Beczała may not be a lyric Italian tenor but he knows how to tug at the heartstrings, which is more than can be said for the conductor Marco Armiliato who seems to have left his heart at home.