ToscaGiacomo Puccini - Tosca

Teatro Carlo Felice di Genova 2010 | Marco Boemi, Adolf Hohenstein, Renzo Giacchierei, Daniela Dessì, Fabio Armiliato, Claudio Sgura, Nikolay Bikov, Paolo Maria Orecchia, Max de Angelis, Angelo Nardinocchi, Roberto Conti, Luca Arrigo | Arthaus Musik

The principal attraction of this 2010 production of Tosca from the Teatro Carlo Felice di Genova is that it the staging is based on Adolf Hohenstein’s original production designs from 1900. The gritty realism of the sets, particularly the Sant’ Andrea chapel of Act I and in the Castel Sant’ Angelo of Act III, look superb, fitting perfectly with the melodramatic verismo nature of a work that is not so much concerned with grand themes or concepts as much as in relating a human drama of love, jealousy and passion set against the backdrop of revolutionary activity, writ large in the sweep and tug of Puccini’s grand score.

In contrast to another recent production at the Royal Opera House also inspired by the realism of the original locations but which looked somewhat cluttered and cramped, there’s a wonderful sense of space here to allow the drama, directed well by Renzo Giacchieri, to play out without any complications. This is how Tosca was originally meant to be seen, and this is as close as you can get to its original intentions. There’s merit in this alone, but it’s even better when the opera is played and sung as well as it’s done here. The singing is outstanding in all the main roles, the husband and wife team of Daniela Dessì and Fabio Armiliato slipping into the roles like a glove. Claudio Sgura isn’t quite as strong as Scarpia, but it’s a fine attempt at a more human performance of a role that is more often played – and unfortunately scored as such by Puccini – as a caricature baddie.

Tosca

It would be all too easy to just go through the motions in such a well-known opera, in a very traditional production – albeit a wonderfully beautiful and lushly decorated one – and it’s easy for the listener to become blasé about yet another production of Tosca, but there’s no sign of any complacency here from any of the main performers and never any danger of the listener remaining detached from it all. There’s a real sense of commitment in Dessì’s Floria Tosca and in Armiliato’s Caravadossi. Neither are as young as they used to be, and the close-ups in High Definition are rather unforgiving, but there’s no substitute for experience. There’s scarcely a weakness anywhere in their performances or their singing, a perfect pairing who work exceptionally well together. You don’t often get that, and it’s something remarkably special when you get such a connection. Both are clearly aware of the inner nature of their roles and how they need to be sung in relation to one another, and they give it their all.

Listening to Dessì and Armiliato sing it, paying attention to every word of the libretto, weighing and balancing it for maximum impact, the qualities of the work and the depths of emotional content within it (so generously underscored by Puccini and perfectly performed here under Marco Boemi) come fully to life. Neither gives any sense of this being a prestige performance, but both are clearly totally involved in the roles for the sake of the drama. It’s unfortunate then that the performance here includes in-the-moment encores for ‘Vissi d’arte’ and ‘E lucevan le stelle’ that disrupts the flow of the drama, but on the other hand, it is a recording of a live performance of a popular work for a paying public and there’s no question that the encores called for here are merited and impressively reprised. They could possibly have been edited out, but that can easily be done by the viewer if so desired on the flick of the chapter switch.

Tosca

There are plenty of versions of Tosca out there (a 2011 Royal Opera House production featuring Angela Gheorghiu, Jonas Kaufmann and Bryn Terfel will be hard to match when released), but this is an outstanding performance that for now is as good as it gets. Superbly directed for TV, capturing all the intensity and passion of the live performance as well as the beauty of the stage production, this Tosca looks and sounds tremendous on Blu-ray. Image and sound are just about flawless. There are no extra features on the disc and no synopsis in the booklet, but the background to the work and its plot are covered in an essay. BD25, 1080i full-HD, PCM Stereo and DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1, All regions, subtitles are in Italian, English, German, French, Spanish and Korean.