PUCCINI Tosca – Pappano
Hot on the heels of Il trittico from Opus Arte comes another Puccini DVD from the Royal Opera, this time on EMI. Like its predecessor, this release offers filming of the highest quality. When Jonathan Kent’s production replaced the much-loved old Zeffirelli staging, made for Callas, it was expected that Kent would give the opera some novel slant; but in the event his Tosca is almost wholly traditional – a chapter of historical fiction, retaining all the opera’s usual rituals and with handsome designs once it is past the opening act.
The cast assembles the most starry of the principals who have appeared in the production to date. Angela Gheorghiu makes a credible character out of Tosca, rolling eyes apart, playing her as a proud, flirtatious, youthful woman. As a lyric soprano, she gives everything she has, yet her voice keeps its beauty at all
but the most high-pressure moments. Jonas Kaufmann scores a complete success as a Cavaradossi who for once looks like the artist as archetypal romantic hero. What he lacks in Italianate open tone, he makes up in brooding, dark colours and his long, Heldentenor cry of ‘Vittoria!’ Neither of them would be likely to get the better of Bryn Terfel’s bully of a Scarpia. The production’s portrayal of him as a dissolute character, unshaven and with long, greasy hair, is perhaps doubtful but Terfel brings it off with aplomb, relishing the torture scene with a salacious smile and, though not in his best voice, singing on a grand scale. The supporting cast is decent, not more. The other dominant personality is Antonio Pappano, whose Puccini has never sounded better. The drive and drama are still here but listen to the affectionate portamentos he brings to the postlude of ‘Recondita armonia’ and the evil undertow that pulsates below Scarpia’s ‘Già mi dicon venal’. The orchestra pit teems with drama as vividly as the stage.
There is more competition for Tosca than for Il trittico. One of the Metropolitan Opera’s DVDs has Pavarotti in his prime and a typically lavish production. Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s high-powered Amsterdam staging offers a modern take on the opera, with Terfel as a James Bond-style villain stroking a white cat. A production from Zurich, not widely liked, also features Kaufmann. On balance, this new DVD is as involving at every level as any.