Germany Puccini, Tosca: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Staatskapelle Berlin/Julian Salemkour (conductor), Schiller Theater, Bismarckstraße, Berlin, 9.9.2012 (MC)
Floria Tosca: Oksana Dyka
Mario Cavaradossi: Neil Shicoff
Baron Scarpia: Thomas J. Mayer
Cesare Angelotti: Arttu Kataja
The Sacristan: Michael Kraus
Spoletta: Paul O’Neill
Sciarrone: James Homann
Prison guard: Alin Anca
Der Kinderchor der Staatsoper Unter den Linden,
Choir of the Staatsoper Unter den Linden
Director: Carl Riha
Set design/Costume design: Wolfgang Bellach
This performance of Puccini’s enduringly popular Tosca presented a fine opportunity to visit the State Opera Company Berlin at their temporary home at the Schiller Theatre. Whilst the Berlin State Opera House on Unter den Linden is being renovated the Berlin State Opera company and the Staatskapelle Berlin have moved into the attractive Schiller Theater. Located in Bismarckstraße in the Charlottenburg district of the city and designed by architect Max Littmann the this theatre was completed in 1906.
This was a traditional production of Tosca under the direction of Carl Riha, sung in Italian with German surtitles. In the last couple of years I’ve seen and thoroughly enjoyed Luc Bondy’s direction of Tosca staged so successfully in both Munich and London. As a successor to Franco Zeffirelli’s long established staging it is hard to believe now that Bondy’s production was considered controversial at the time eliciting some booing when first seen in 2009 in New York. This Carl Riha production from the Berlin State Opera at the Schiller Theatre uses a smaller stage than their usual Unter den Linden home and is also smaller than the respective stages for the Bondy productions I have seen from Covent Garden, London and the National Theatre, Munich. In spite of the Schiller Theatre stage having far more basic facilities than its illustrious rivals Riha’s production made a strong impression being insightful and full of vitality. Congratulations are due to Wolfgang Bellach for his traditionally styled set and costume design which were quite beautiful on the eye.
Ukrainian soprano Oksana Dyka, a graduate of the Kiev Conservatory, took the role as the celebrated singer Floria Tosca displaying an attractive rather than a beautiful tone. I was immediately struck by the amplitude of her voice. She also has the ability to slide swiftly and easily to the top of her register. Tosca’s famous aria Vissi d’arte was sung by Dyka with moderate tenderness and a degree of solitude but I wasn’t entirely persuaded. Generally her acting didn’t convince either and I really wanted to sense her vulnerability. She seemed strangely disinterested – almost remote, and consequently Tosca’s character didn’t come to life for me. Yet Tosca’s fall from the parapet of Castel Sant’Angelo was one of the better ones I have seen.
As Mario Cavaradossi the painter, American Neil Shicoff can’t compete with the physical characteristics of singers such as Jonas Kaufmann or Carlo Ventre in the role but he is an enthusiastic and compelling bright lyric tenor. With dramatic vigour and high emotional investment in the role Shicoff was mightily impressive. As the lovesick artist Cavaradossi’s arias Recondita Armonia, E lucevan Le Stelle and O dolci mani were conveyed with affectionate sensitivity providing ample passion and pain.
Bryn Terfel and best of all Juha Uusitalo were both menacing as the scheming, depraved and violently lustful chief of police Baron Scarpia, but sadly baritone Thomas J. Mayer didn’t terrify as Scarpia owing mainly to a lack of stage presence, although his singing was reasonably effective. I enjoyed his first act aria Va, Tosca! Nel tuo cuor s’annida Scarpia! where he threatens to ravish Tosca or have Cavaradossi hung at the gallows. The diligent and enthusiastic sacristan Michael Kraus deserves a mention, as does Arttu Kataja as the desperate Angelotti, and Paul O’Neill’s solid Spoletta rounded off the ensemble splendidly.
To allow time for altering the staging there were two intervals in this three act opera. When the curtain went down at the end of both act one and two the key performers appeared from behind the curtain to take a bow. It seemed crazy to see Neil Shicoff as Cavaradossi bowing enthusiastically within minutes of being badly tortured, Oksana Dyka as Tosca beaming and bowing shortly after stabbing Scarpia to death and Thomas J. Mayer as Scarpia resurrected take a bow only minutes after we had seen him stabbed to death. As bows were taken after each act most annoyingly conductor Julian Salemkour didn’t seem to wish to leave spaces after the arias for audience applause. However, quite rightly there were two or three occasions when the singing was so good that the audience clapping broke into the music to show their appreciation. Nevertheless, in the pit Salemkour was well attuned to the demands of the score and did a sterling job as conductor with the excellent players of the Staatskapelle Berlin. In fact, I cannot recall more expressive and dramatic playing from any pit orchestra in an opera house.