Musicweb International, July 20, 2010
José M Irurzun
Tosca, Munich, July 19, 2010
Münchner Opernfestspiele 2010 - Puccini, Tosca
What a great pleasure it is to attend Munich’s Summer Opera Festival year on year, one of the most important events in the calendar. Although Munich probably lacks the glamour of Salzburg or the mystic ambiance of Bayreuth, its quality is second to none as far as I am concerned. My stay in Munich however, began with an almost all star Tosca, which unfortunately failed to meet my expectations.

This is the production that had its premiere at New York’s Metropolitan last September, where it was caused an almighty scandal. The truth is though – at least my truth – is that while different people might like it or hate it, there’s nothing terribly scandalous about it and I can only assume that New York’s reactions to it had more to do with the disappearance of Franco Zeffirelli’s old and much loved production, which seemed to be set as an integral part of the Metropolitan’s structure.

First of all, this is a traditional production, less spectacular than some others, but it follows the libretto faithfully; a rather spartan church in the first act, the Farnese Palace in the second - although it might just as easily be a less that luxurious room in a hotel, and finally a terrace on the fortress, but without the famous statue of the Angel. Costumes are appropriate to the time of the action, and are quite appealing as far as Tosca goes. The lighting could be improved, especially in the first two acts and the stage direction has some interesting details here and there but nothing radical since the three protagonists are what they have always been in so many other productions. The more personal touches happen in Act II, where Scarpia is entertained by a few women of easy virtue, before being stabbed several times by Tosca. Luc Bondy takes away the chandeliers and the crucifixes at the end of the Act, showing Tosca lying on the couch for the last few bars, calming herself by using the Marchesa Atavanti’s fan. It seems that she is not in any hurry to rescue Cavaradossi, even though there are only a few hours (Scarpia says one hour) of life left to him. In fact, she wears a different costume in Act III, presumably having had ample time to go to their villa to change her clothes. Her choice of costume did not seem the particularly suited to take “una tartana por Civitavecchia” either, but the third act remains totally traditional. In short then, the production is fairly conventional, less spectacular than some and not completely convincing at times but it’s certainly no kind of Eurotrash,

The musical direction was by Marco Armiliato. As I've written many times before in these pages, Mr. Armiliato has become the preferred conductor for many of today’s star singers, since he guarantees that the music will always be at their service and not the other way round. This time though, Maestro Armiliato’s dedication to the singers, seemed to cause him to forget that Tosca is an opera in which the music is merely incidental, but is really a first-rank protagonist in itself. His reading felt too routine in the first two acts, especially in the crucial second one where there was too little drama and tension. Things improved in the third act, but probably too late to make the performance particularly gripping and even the magnificent Bayerisches Staatsorchester seemed at less than its best.

The cast had three big names, particularly for the two main protagonists, but none of them have especially Latin voices. Finnish soprano Karita Mattila has been one of the greats in recent years, but has never had a strong affinity with the main Italian repertoire. Here she seemed not at her best, her voice having lost harmonics and, consequently, much of the attraction that this singer had until recently. Her performance was largely disappointing, with some rather forced top note and a lack of brightness in her timbre. She is still a consummated interpreter of the role, but this itself is not enough for a truly great Tosca.

Munich born tenor Jonas Kaufmann is surely one of the most important singers in the opera world. I find his dark timbre particularly attractive, even if his vocal projection is not always easy. But he is certainly a great singer, one of the very few able to move his audience. As Cavaradossi I found him slightly uneven, with some magnificent moments and others rather less so. I thought that there was a certain coolness in his interpretation and also what it seemed to me as certain lack of chemistry with Tosca. "Recondita Armonia" was good, finishing on an almost endless and beautiful piano but his "Vittora, vittoria" felt slightly cool although always bright and nicely sustained. "E Lucevan le stelle" was also well done, with a first part sung piano, almost whispered, which is not necessarily to everyone's taste, and a second part full of commitment and passion. His "O, dolci mani", one of those delightful pages, to which tenors normally pay insufficient attention, since is not a true aria, was also one of his best moments.

Finnish baritone Juha Uusitalo is not well suited for Scarpia, except in appearance to my mind, since I don’t feel that this is a good role for his voice. Scarpia is also a far more complicated charcater than a pure villain and needs an interpreter able to offer more nuances and intention in his singing which I simply did not find to be the case this time.

In the supporting roles the best was Kevin Conners as Spoletta, the veteran Enrico Fissore was an appropriately traditional Sacristan in and Christian Van Horn, as Angelotti, offered a lighter timbre than Kaufmann, when they met in the church.

There was a sold-out out house and plenty of “Suche karte” signs around. There were applause at open stage for Recondita Armonia and Vissi d'Arte, while Mr. Armiliato did not stop the Orchestra after “E lucevan le stelle”. At the final bows there was a warm reception for all the artists, in which the outright winner was Jonas Kaufmann. Marco Armiliato was received with sonorous and repeated booing, mixed with some applause.


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