Puccini, Tosca: Soloists, Chorus & Orchestra of Teatro Regio Torino, Children’s Chorus of Teatro Regio Torino and the Conservatory Giuseppe Verdi / Daniel Oren (conductor), Teatro Regio Torino, Turin, 22 & 23.10.2019. (RP)
Director – Mario Pontiggia
Sets & Costumes – Francesco Zito
Lighting – Bruno Ciulli
Chorus master – Andrea Secchi
Chorus master (Children’s Chorus) – Claudio Fenoglio
Tosca – Anna Pirozzi / Davinia Rodríguez
Cavaradossi – Marcelo Álvarez / Jonathan Tetelman
Scarpia – Ambrogio Maestri / Gevorg Hakobyan
Sacristan – Roberto Abbondanza
Spoletta – Bruno Lazzaretti
Angelotti – Romano Dal Zovo
Sciarrone – Gabriel Alexander Wernick
Jailer – Giuseppe Capoferri / Enrico Bava
Shepherd – Viola Contartese / Gaia Bertolino
I attended two performances of Teatro Regio Turin’s Tosca, and the one that featured Anna Pirozzi in the title role, Marcelo Álvarez as Cavaradossi and Ambrogio Maestri as Baron Scarpia was by far the best overall performance of this Puccini opera I have ever seen. This was the result of a combination of near ideal casting, an elegant, traditional staging and conductor Daniel Oren in the pit. In the second performance, the magic was provided by the wonder of watching young tenor Jonathan Tetelman emerge as a star in Act III with a magnificent ‘E lucevan le stelle’. Tetelman, who had proceeded with caution in the first two acts, nailed the aria and the audience let him know it.
The production, directed by Mario Pontiggia with sets and costumes by Francesco Zito, originated at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo. It is a stunningly beautiful, richly detailed re-creation of the three locations in Rome where the tragedy unfolds. The dome of the Sant’Andrea della Valle loomed above the nave of the church where Cavaradossi paints and Scarpia plots his conquest of Tosca. Scarpia’s quarters in the Farnese Palace were refined and elegant, with liveried servants attending to his needs. A chamber in Castel Sant’Angelo with a massive iron gate opening onto the terrace was where the painter was executed and the diva jumped to her death. Its sole adornment was the papal coat of arms, a symbol of the church under whose authority Scarpia waged his war of terror.
Pontiggia and Zito’s fidelity to the physical settings of the opera carried over into the details of the staging, the costumes and the lighting. The grandeur and spectacle of the church was taken seriously: the skeleton of a saint enclosed in glass beneath the altar; a cardinal in procession for the Te Deum wearing ornate slippers, a sign of his office; and incense wafting through the air. The dresses of the heavily veiled women who crowded the church and Tosca’s second act gown and sparkling jewels, complete with tiara, were the most sumptuous of the costumes. When Tosca’s shadow suddenly appeared on the wall as she placed candles and a crucifix over Scarpia’s body, the man sitting next to me shuddered. It is of such details that memorable operatic performances are made.
Against this backdrop of Rome in all its glory, three wonderful singers on the first evening gave life to Puccini’s larger-than-life characters. Anna Pirozzi is a diva in the grand style, both temperamentally and vocally. Her voice encompasses delicate, shimmering pianissimos and piercing fortes. Floria Tosca’s every caprice, as well as her acts of piety and courage, were etched large, with the pinnacle being a ‘Vissi d’arte’ for the ages.
I have heard Marcello Álvarez many times, but never experienced him performing with such carefree abandon. Sleeker these days, he emanated a youthful energy but, more importantly, he made the audience see Tosca through his eyes: passionate, jealous and alluring. His Cavaradossi was vocally and dramatically impetuous and daring; as to the former, he may be throwing caution to the wind, but the result is thrilling.
Ambrogio Maestri’s Scarpia can only be described as massive in temperament, voice and person, yet there was a delicacy to his performance. His Scarpia was a connoisseur of cruelty and capable of expressing it in the most subtle of manners, unless more drastic measures were needed. In the second cast, the same could be said of Gevorg Hakobyan, although on a somewhat smaller scale. Nonetheless, his Scarpia had the same threatening intensity coupled with a voice of commanding authority. In fact, Hakobyan’s Scarpia had the blacker soul of the two.
Jonathan Tetelman was vocally secure from the start, but his Cavaradossi was at a low simmer. Perhaps this was in response to his Tosca, as Davinia Rodríguez was simply miscast. She has glamour and energy, but her voice is too small by far for Tosca, a role that is the preserve of larger, more dramatic voices. She was often inaudible, even when Oren was his most accommodating. In the third act, when Tetelman was alone on stage, his Cavaradossi took flight. You could also hear it in the orchestra. Only in Pirozzi’s ‘Vissi d’arte’ had Oren squeezed every possible drop of emotion from his players as he did when Tetelman was singing ‘E lucevan le stelle’.
Oren had missed the first four performances of the run due to health reasons, but he was in fine form for these two. His verismo is the stuff of raw meat being thrown to the lions at one end of the spectrum and champagne at the other. His broadest musical brush strokes, as well as his most sensitive shadings, came from the orchestra and chorus, who responded brilliantly to the frantic beating of his baton and grunts and shouts that could be heard throughout the house. All of Rome may have trembled before Scarpia, but Oren can make the earth move.