A Satisfying Tosca in Munich

Puccini, Tosca: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Bavarian State Opera, Keri-Lynn Wilson (conductor), National Theatre, Munich, Thursday 12.5.2011 (MC)

Director: Luc Bondy
Sets: Richard Peduzzi
Costumes: Milena Canonero
Stage director: Johannes von Matuschka
Lighting: Michael Bauer


Floria Tosca: Tatiana Serjan
Mario Cavaradossi: Carlo Ventre
Baron Scarpia: Juha Uusitalo
Cesare Angelotti: Christian Van Horn
The Sacristan: Christoph Stephinger
Spoletta: Kevin Conners
Sciarrone: Rüdiger Trebes
Prison guard: Christian Rieger

Shepherd boy: Soloist of the Tölz Boys Choir
Children’s Chorus of the Bavarian State Opera
Chorus master: Stellario Fagone

A co-production with the New York Metropolitan Opera and La Scala, Milan .


Tatiana Serjan as Tosca - Picture © Wilfried Hösl

In recent weeks all the hullabaloo at the National Theatre in Munich has been surrounding star soprano Anna Netrebko singing Adina in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore for the Bavarian State Opera. Tucked in between the tumult is Luc Bondy’s production of Puccini’s Tosca staged so successfully if somewhat contentiously at the Metropolitan Opera. Seen for the first time the opening scene is a remarkable sight with the strikingly tall outside brick façade of the Roman church of Sant’Andrea della Valle dominating the semi-dark set. As a successor to Franco Zeffirelli’s long established staging it is hard to believe that this Bondy production was considered controversial eliciting some booing when first seen in 2009 in New York.

For me Mario Cavaradossi’s tenor aria Recondita Armonia is one of the most celebrated moments in opera and highly moving if done well. It is extremely difficult to pull off as it comes so early in act one of the opera before the singer’s voice has had time to warm up. Uruguayan lyrico-spinto tenor Carlo Ventre delivered Recondita Armonia and E lucevan Le Stelle with affectionate heart and sensitivity that just missed out on the necessary passion and pain of the lovesick artist. Somewhat self-conscious, Ventre’s acting could have been more credible for example when mixing the colours on the palette and his brush strokes of the large painting of Mary Magdalen. Floria Tosca, the renowned singer played by Russian born soprano Tatiana Serjan, is convincing as the vulnerable and rather naive heroine. With considerable assurance the despairing Tosca’s famous act 2 aria Vissi d’arte was sung by Serjan with a moving tenderness and sense of solitude.

Juha Uusitalo the bass-baritone stole the show in his role as the suitably menacing depraved and lustful Baron Scarpia, the conspiratorial chief of police. Not only was the Finn in excellent voice so rich and characterful, his acting was superb too. Incredibly effective was his first act aria Va, Tosca! Nel tuo cuor s’annida Scarpia! with his ominously intimidating threats to ravish Tosca or have Cavaradossi hung at the gallows.

Rather puzzling was the switch from the Rome of 1800 of Act One to the slinky 1960s-like apartment furnished with two scarlet coloured sofas and easy chairs where Scarpia was entertaining a gang of scantily clad floozies. Most effective was the off stage light shining like a beacon through the open door. Virtually matching the sofas Tosca’s scarlet dress was most noticeable in the light. Then in Act Three we were back to period again where the rehearsing firing squad looked a little slapstick – like the Keystone Cops. The actual shooting of Cavaradossi by the troop of soldiers was highly persuasive while Tosca’s stabbing of Scarpia could have contained a touch more menace. The opera’s famous conclusion where Tosca throws herself from a high window in the castle ramparts might have had more impact. We saw her begin to make her fall from the window and then all the lights went out before her actual leap.- all down to excessive health and safety legislation, I guess.

The splendid orchestra of the Bavarian State Opera was conducted by Keri-Lynn Wilson in a fluid and alert performance providing plenty of fine detail. Wilson who I suspect may be a relatively new name to many is the wife of New York Metropolitan Opera General Manager Peter Gelb. Her generally lighter weighted and brisk approach avoided enough of Puccini’s sumptuous late-Romantic orchestral textures especially requiring a more luxurious string sound. I was rather irritated that Wilson, principally in the first two acts, left no space for the audience to show their appreciation for the set pieces. Three or four times applause was developing only for Wilson to race on ahead. Overall the positives, and there were many, outweighed the negatives. This was a most satisfying production of Puccini’s wonderfully dramatic opera.

Michael Cookson