With tenor-of-the-moment Jonas Kaufmann starring as
Mario Cavaradossi, the courageous painter who loves the title
character in Puccini’s “Tosca,” opera lovers are bound to focus
on him out of curiosity alone. In a new DVD from the Openhaus
Zürich, Kaufmann lives up to his reputation. He also
shares the spotlight with excellent castmates, even though all
are stuck in lackluster trappings.
Directed by Robert
Carsen, the production uses the familiar play-within-a-play
trope to anchor the bloody story of an impulsive diva, with all
movements theatricalized to represent a life lived through art.
The director’s motivations are made clear in a booklet
accompanying the DVD and they are perfectly reasonable. In
practice, the concept is unobtrusive, but it adds little.
Instead of the typical candlestick ritual around Scarpia’s body,
Tosca anoints him with a playbill and a rose; instead of church
pews, there are velvet chairs. A drab brick wall and red and
gold curtains serve as backdrops.
In the title role,
Magee dispatches her round, ripe soprano with great finesse and
control, especially in the much-loved aria “Vissi d’arte” (“I
lived for art”). If she weren’t forced into “opera singer”
gestures all the time, her performance would be even more
compelling. Still, with not an edgy note out of her even at her
character’s most outrageous, she might be even better suited to
full-voiced Mozart and Strauss roles.
imbues the villainous role of Scarpia with full, gleaming tone.
He is not the snarling powerhouse that some might associate with
the character, but one chilling in his easy sadistic smile and
believable in his unyielding desire for Tosca.
He is also
quite vicious in Carsen’s staging, tearing through the life-size
portrait of the Madonna and looming eerily behind Tosca with a
conspicuous stage light creating a silhouette behind him, before
Under Paolo Carignani, the orchestra plays
cleanly and precisely, bringing out the character in Puccini’s
score, from the delicacy and vivid color palette of
Cavaradossi’s opening aria to the ominous heft of Scarpia’s Act
I closer — although there could be a little more heat in the
central clash. Baritone Valeriy Murga appears as a strong-voiced
Angelotti and bass Giuseppe Scorsin sings ably as the sacristan.
As for Kaufmann, his appeal is not just a question
of rugged good lucks and his virile, grainy voice. His tenor
barrels forward with impressive volume and intensity as he
endures torture at Scarpia’s hands, but the poetic phrasing and
breathtaking piano singing in his final aria “E lucevan le
stelle” (“And the stars were shining”) are even more memorable.
He can be heard more on a new CD of Verismo arias (also on
Decca) that’s worth checking out.