Spain Puccini: Tosca, Liceu’s Orchestra and Chorus, Paolo Carignani (conductor), Barcelona’s Liceu, 17,18 & 19.3.2014 (JMI)
New Production: Gran Teatre del Liceu in co-production with Seville’s Maestranza
Direction: Paco Azorín
Sets: Paco Azorín
Costume: Isidro Prunés
Lighting: Pascal Mérat
Tosca: Sondra Radvanovsky/ Martina Serafín/Fiorenza Cedolins
Cavaradossi: Jorge De León/Alfred Kim/Andrea Caré
Scarpia: Ambrogio Maestri/Scott Hendricks/Vittorio Vitelli
Angelotti: Vladimir Baykov/Alessandro Guerzoni
Sacristan: Valeriano Lanchas
Spoletta: Francisco Vas/José Manuel Zapata
Sciarrone: Manel Esteve
Jailer: Dimitar Darlev/Pierpaolo Palloni
Shepherd: Elena Copons
Barcelona’s Liceu has scheduled fifteen performances of Tosca with three different casts that have to be considered as alternatives since the price of seats is the same for all of them. Judging from this sales policy, it could be assumed that the main star is Tosca herself.
Ten years after the controversial production by Robert Carsen, Liceu has commissioned a new production from Paco Azorin, a well-known theater director in Spain, who has worked as an opera set designer for directors such as Mario Gas and Lluis Pasqual. Azorin does a fairly traditional job in terms of sets and costumes, but the aesthetic interest of the production decreases from act to act. There is an attractive scene of Sant’Andrea della Valle, featuring an altarpiece whose figures are video projections. Palazzo Farnese is just the back of that altarpiece with a pretty bare Scarpia’s office and the rather strange presence of a prison at the right of the stage. In the last act we move to the roof of the prison, where Cavaradossi wanders and where finally he will be executed.
Paco Azorin provides his personal touches, but they are not too successful. At the beginning of Acts I and III he includes a number of extras who accompany Angelotti and Tosca to the church and prison respectively. The first two acts are fairly traditional, although it’s odd that Tosca shakes hands with the prisoners after killing Scarpia, whom she kisses goodbye as well. The last act is the most confusing, with a change of dress by Tosca in prison and the action transferred to the roof of the building.
Paolo Carignani’s conducting was satisfying, with adequate tempos and good care taken of the sound coming from the pit. There was tension and dramatic sense and, overall, I found his reading rewarding. The orchestra continues to improve, which is good news.
Sondra Radvanovsky, the first Tosca, was quite convincing. Her dark timbre is very attractive, and the size of her voice is second to none. Her very important middle range is not an obstacle to a glorious top register. However, I found her low notes weaker than before. She got the biggest applause of the three performances at her “Vissi d’ Arte.”
Martina Serafin was a convincing Tosca on stage but less so vocally. She has no problems while the tessitura stays in the center, but her timbre changes color for the worse on the high notes.
I found Fiorenza Cedolins improved from the last time I saw her on stage. Her middle range is now richer with bigger volume and consistency, but her low notes are still insufficient and the upper area has not recovered the brightness she had in the past. She was a good Tosca, although not the exceptional Tosca of some twelve years ago.
Jorge De León was the first Cavaradossi. There is no doubt that his voice is very important and one of the most attractive today in the big repertoire, but he tends to sing mostly forte. If he seemed to me somewhat superficial, Alfred Kim was even more so with the difference that De León’s voice is more attractive. Alfred Kim has no problems of tessitura, and his high notes are like trumpet blasts and always in full voice. His interpretation of “E lucevan le stelle” was a real display of decibels. Finally, we had Italian tenor Andrea Caré in the third cast, and overall he made a good impression. His voice is suited to the character, but his biggest handicap is his forced top notes which give the impression he doesn’t feel safe up there.
Ambrogio Maestri was an excellent Scarpia on stage although I prefer a darker voice in this evil character. He is one of the best Scarpias around, but I prefer him in characters such as Falstaff or Dulcamara. Scott Hendricks was a convincing Scarpia on stage and very nuanced in his singing, but his baritone is not particularly attractive and the size of his voice is limited. Vittorio Vitelli was a very modest Scarpia; in fact, his voice was smaller than Sciarrone’s. I do not understand his presence in this house.
The secondary characters were rather mixed, with an excellent Sacristan from Valeriano Lanchas.
José Mª. Irurzun
José Mª. Irurzun