The cover’s stick-on label reads “Jonas Kaufmann’s
first Tosca DVD”, with the implication that a second will follow
in due course. I certainly hope so, given the production
digitally entombed on this Decca release.
singer with the romantic curls, soulful eyes and an excellent
dark tenor voice has made a home for himself as Cavaradossi, the
painter hero in Puccini’s opera. In a month’s time he’ll be
appearing in a different production for two starry nights at
Covent Garden. This DVD, filmed at the Zurich Opera House in
2009, shows why you might have to recruit the US Navy Seals to
get a ticket.
Indeed, Kaufmann is so eloquent that the
deficiencies flying around him vanish as soon as he opens his
mouth. One of them, I rush to say, isn’t Emily Magee’s singing
as Tosca. The American soprano works very hard as the titular
singer, equally in love with Cavaradossi and the limelight. Even
so, none of her flights can match Kaufmann’s for poetry or
individuality. His own chestnut number, E lucevan le stelle,
often given a right trumpeting, is sung with the half voice,
pained and gentle, and becomes reborn.
Best of all, with
Kaufmann’s performance you never sense a puppet strutting, a
prevailing factor otherwise in Robert Carsen’s production,
developed for Vlaamse Opera in 1991. Carsen trashes Puccini’s
carefully delineated historical context — Rome, June 1800 — in
favour of arid self-referential tricks, 1950s fashions, and a
Tosca who swans about like Marilyn Monroe and Ava Gardner
combined. Except when Kaufmann’s singing, it’s hard to feel
The DVD viewing experience isn’t
always helpful. Magee’s consciously exaggerated diva gestures
don’t sit well on a TV screen. Thomas Hampson’s decently sung
Scarpia fares better, especially when his villainy is expressed
in the corners of eyes and lips. A modest word of praise, too,
for Giuseppe Scorsin as the Sacristan, characterfully bumbling
round Anthony Ward’s annoying sets in his pullover with holes.
Orchestrally, Paolo Carignani does his best to keep
Puccini’s score pulsing along, hard and bright. But the music
that matters comes from Kaufmann’s throat, mellifluously
convincing no matter what the production’s ills.