As you already know Puccini is not my cup of tea. When interestingly staged I can stomach the lacrimosa passages and tons of pathos from time to time.
I was recently offered by a dear friend a copy of DVD Tosca, directed by Robert Carsen and presented a couple of years ago in Zurich, with Kaufmann, Magee and Hampson in the main roles. I promised I would see it, which I eventually did during my trip to Munich. In short - it's a good DVD!
Robert Carsen obviously had fun doing this show, and I liked a loose parallel between Floria Tosca and Maria Callas that went on to the very end when it was used with a witty twist in the closing scene. In that one movement Carsen lifted off a big chunk of Tosca-pathos and in the end --in spite of myself-- I actually liked the show [it is completely incomprehensible to me that the same Carsen could produce such a flat Traviata or Eugene Onegin]. Emily Magee is maybe not Catherine the Great Naglestad but her Tosca is truly wonderful. Jonas Kaufmann sang the role of Cavaradossi in a very peculiar way, very much in sync with this particular production. But my hero was again Tom Hampson whose Scarpia is very different from what you can see elsewhere in business. He was not trying to portray Scarpia as a one-dimensional mean character. His Scarpia is defined by his love and desire for Floria, and only after comes his temptation to use his social position to conquer her -- not the other way around. His acting and singing bring this side of the character in the foreground. Great job Tom!
Here is a trailer of this production:
I mentioned Kaufmann's other singing of Mario that we could see on TV last year. It was a live broadcats from Munich in the Luc Bondy production where Kaufmann was audibly tired and visibly not at ease. I would not talk about that production here, but I thought I could mention one detail that can further help you understand why the Bayerische Staatsoper is so great.
Yes, the level of snootiness among the Munich operagoers is often unbearable, the way they film operas is often bad (maybe the worst of all was how they destroyed Bieito's Fidelio a month ago), but they are artistically opened to all kinds of opera-producing, they do not line-up the stars without thinking how they would fit a given production, they take well-calculated risks that often pay off, they have a superb chorus, brilliant orchestra and ensemble. The way they are organized is exemplary on so many levels, and their outreach efforts are often excellent. Since this post is about Tosca I thought it is a right moment to mention their best video contest Tosca Piraten [around "Vissi d'arte"] run by the BSO prior to the premiere of Bondy's Tosca in July 2010 in Munich. People would send their creative videos and then the jury of professionals decided which ones were the best. The ten won some prize and the top two were even offered two tickets each for the new Tosca at the Bayerische Staatsoper. The ways to promote creativity was brought to a new level.
The winner was this video that combines art by Maria Callas with that by Vassily Kandinsky. To me the 2nd prize was actually far more interesting as it sees Hélène by Romy Schneider from Les choses de la vie in a new way:
You can see all the winners here.
A little more than a week ago there was a live broadcast of Tosca in concert from the Verbier Festival, that you can still see on medici.tv on this link. There you may particularly enjoy the orchestra and the phenomenal Gianandrea Noseda whose passion for music is physical: his gestures are spectacular, his exuberance is typically Italian but hidden behind his stern face. When added to his pronounced sense for precision the result is quite extraordinary. He managed to bring the best out this orchestra and once again he was the star of the evening.
The evening started with bad news: previously anounced Aleksanders Antonenko (Cavaradossi) and Bryn Terfel (Scarpia) canceled and the public obviously hated it, but Noseda managed to find two superb replacements in Riccardo Massi and Ambrogio Maestri respectively.
Maestri is a typical dark Italian Scarpia that equally impressed the crowd and critics by his expressive and very powerful voice. Massi instead is a new voice for my ears. His E lucevan le stelle is special -- a lesson of expressive singing, if you ask me. In any case here is a video excerpt so you can decide it for yourself:
Finally, always reliable Barbara Frittoli did a good job too that made the whole evening a huge success of Verbier 2011.