Switzerland Puccini, Tosca: Soloists, Chorus and Childrens’ Chorus of the Zurich Opera, Philharmonia Zurich / Paolo Carignani (conductor), Zurich Opera, Zurich 21.10.2017. (JR)
Floria Tosca – Anja Harteros
Mario Cavaradossi – Brian Jagde
Baron Scarpia – Marco Vratogna
Cesare Angelotti – Valerij Murga
Sacristan – Pavel Daniluk
Spoletta – Martin Zysset
Sciarrone – Ildo Song
Shepherd – Claire Schurter
A Prison guard – Donald Thomson
Director – Robert Carsen
Scenic Assistant – Ulrich Senn
Set and Costumes – Anthony Ward
Assistance – Alexander Lowde
Lighting – Davy Cunningham
Chorus Master – Ernst Raffelsberger
BBC Radio 3 ran a divertissement during their very recent Opera Passion Day, asking listeners to select their favourite opera from a choice of four (!), the Magic Flute, The Flying Dutchman, Faust and Tosca. It was always going to be a contest between Mozart and Puccini, and Tosca came out tops. One commentator then said that one of the opera’s strengths was that it was director-proof; not that it could not be updated (such as to the Third Reich, already successfully done) but that the quality of the music always shone through. That was rather the case with Robert Carsen’s production in Zurich, first premièred in 2009, which places the action in an opera house, first (Act I) in the stalls, Act II backstage in the opera house director’s office (complete with safety curtain), then Act III on the stage itself after the safety curtain lifts, the stage seen from behind. It does not always work, as updates often do not. It cannot however be long– given recent news – before Hollywood’s casting couch becomes the scene of the action in Act II. As Scarpia says: “God created diverse beauties and wine and I want to taste as many as I can”.
My Seen and Heard colleague Rick Perdian saw this production last year, so allow me to refer to the second paragraph of his review at https://seenandheard-international.com/2016/06/tosca-in-all-its-fiery-tragic-glory/ Novice opera-goers (and Tosca is an ideal choice for novices) will however have been confused by the lack of visible references to a church in Act I, the conference hotel chairs standing in for opera house seats, the scarlet curtain with its gold braid, the ushers, ballerinas (standing in for choristers) and glossy opera programmes (standing in for hymn books). The torture chamber seems incongruous adjacent to the opera director’s office, although bright lights indicate that Cavaradossi is very much under the spotlight in there. When Scarpia is killed, Tosca lays one of the opera programmes on the corpse, the cover featuring a photo of herself – rather a give-away for the detective in charge of the subsequent murder investigation. A nice touch is Tosca’s leap into the (rear) orchestra pit in the face of bright stage lights, though thankfully there is no ensuing sound of smashing violins.
Anja Harteros rightly received a standing ovation for her overall performance, in a class of her own. She was always captivating on stage, never forced her voice, creamy in the middle register and glistening on top: she made the perfect diva in all senses.
I had not heard American tenor Brian Jagde and was quite impressed: he has sung Cavaradossi in Stuttgart, Santa Fe, Chicago and Berlin. He has a young, strong voice, secure top notes even if they do not ring; he occasionally sings too loudly, though Carignani played the score for all it was worth and that led to problems of balance, (especially in Act I). Marco Vratogna, also known for his Iago, makes a dependable Scarpia. I missed some snarl, his acting is not one of his stronger suits; I missed lechery and lasciviousness. Carignani could perhaps have elicited some more grit from the orchestra; the percussion section I felt was too timid throughout. Clarinet and cello solos were top notch. Tempi were always spot on, never a dull moment.
Minor roles were all well taken, in particular Pavel Daniluk’s bumbling Sacristan, giving him the chance to show off his comedic skills as well as his gruff bass. The chorus were full-throated in their one (visible) contribution.
Lighting was notable, by Davy Cunningham, not from one of Zurich’s regulars. From Angelotti (in suit and tie) hiding in the shadows to the spectacular lighting of “Vissi d’Arte” (splendidly sung, with delicate harp accompaniment), the golden proscenium arch brightly lit, a large spotlight onto Tosca clinging to the side brick wall.
Tosca’s costumes were stunning, especially the blue gown for Act II. The “bravas” at the end, from the full house, were all for Harteros.