A Mixed Reception for Nuria Espert’s Tosca in Madrid

G. Puccini, Tosca: Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid. Coro Intermezzo. Pequeños Cantores. Conductor: Renato Palumbo. Teatro Real de Madrid. 12. 7.2011 (JMI)

Production Teatro Real in coproduction with Asociación Bilbaína de Amigos de la Ópera (ABAO)

Direction: Nuria Espert
Sets: Ezio Frigerio
Costumes: Franca Squarciapino
Lighting: Vinicio Cheli


Tosca: Violeta Urmana
Cavaradossi: Marco Berti
Scarpia: Lado Ataneli
Angelotti: Felipe Bou
Sagrestano: Valeriano Lanchas
Spoleta: Carlo Bosi
Sciarrone: Karoly Szemeredy

This Tosca has been around: Nuria Espert’s production premiered in January 2004 at the Teatro Real and was then revived there in July of the same year. Since then, I’ve also seen it in Bilbao in September of 2006. I must have seen it no less than eight times already and have never really warmed up to it.

Nuria Espert is a director who always gives a personal-sometimes ostentatiously personal-touch to her projects. Her ‘originality’ is to focus the drama on the vast powers of the Church, making of the police chief Baron Scarpia and his henchmen clerics, which is-even eve we assume she deducts so much from at Cavaradossi’s words to Angelotti (referring to Scarpia) “fa il confessore è il boia” the meaning that Scarpia is a priest. At least Nuria Espert is consistent with her vision and goes for a truly spectacular Te Deum highlighting the power of the Church. In the second act the room is dominated by large crucifix and Tosca does not move the large candlesticks, but she distinguishes them one after another, keeping her eyes transfixed on the crucifix. In the third act the priests-cum-henchmen are a permanent presence. The production is classic, conventional, and attractive with the stage dominated by a semicircle on two levels.

One cannot really expect changes for the better from a revival, but there was one this time which more vividly expressed Nuria Espert’s angle: at the end of Act II Tosca puts out the candles, takes a glass of wine, looks at the large crucifix looming in Scarpia’s room, and throws the contents of the cup against Christ. The Spanish audience, judging by the boos that Mrs. Espert received at the end, did not approve.

Renato Palumbo led the orchestra with his trademark assurance, particularly bland during the first act, but gaining in tension from the second act on. He focused perhaps too much of his attention on the singers but still got a decent result from the orchestra.

The heroine, Floria Tosca, was Violeta Urmana, whose performance I found more powerful than exciting and nuanced. I found her timbre too metallic with a tendency to scream the high notes, which is not too surprising considering her mezzo soprano origins. She was good, but I was not excited at any time, not even at “Vissi d’arte.”

Marco Berti was also a powerful Cavaradossi, with tons of squillo on the high notes, which are undoubtedly his greatest asset. With acting apparently optional, he went through “Recondita Armonia” without much brightness, he was much better at “Vittoria, Vittoria”, he did not move the audience at “E lucevam le stelle” and, finally he was unconvincing at “O dolci mani”.

Georgian baritone Lado Ataneli was not an exciting Scarpia either, remaining short of volume on more than one occasion, and especially during the Te Deum. Felipe Bou repeated his Angelotti from 7 years ago and Valeriano Lanchas was a correct Sacristán. Carlo Bosi was a well suited Spoleta, but do we need to go to Italy to find a good Spoletta?

First performance of this run of Toscas and full house, although these this title was not part of the season subscription. The audience gave a warmrteception to the artists, with cheers to the three main roles and to Maestro Palumbo, as well as sonorous booing for Nuria Espert.

José MªIrurzun