Italy Puccini, Tosca (concert version): Soloists, Chorus (chorus master: Gea Garatti Ansini), Children Chorus (chorus master: Stefania Rinaldi), and Orchestra of Teatro di San Carlo / Juraj Valčuha (conductor). July 2020 performance in the Piazza del Plebiscito, live streamed and reviewed on 30.7.2020. (JPr)
Floria Tosca – Anna Netrebko
Mario Cavaradossi – Yusif Eyvazov
Baron Scarpia – Ludovic Tézier
Cesare Angelotti – Riccardo Fassi
Sacristan – Sergio Vitale
Spoletta – Francesco Pittari
Sciarrone – Domenico Colaianni
Jailer – Rosario Natale
Shepherd – Lorenzo Narcisi
I wrote recently (review click here) how ‘Any successful production of Tosca needs little more than suggest – as described in the libretto – the inside of the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle (with a suitable chapel), Scarpia’s apartment at Palazzo Farnese, and the uppermost ramparts of Castel Sant’Angelo, and all at the appropriate times of a June 1800 Rome day.’ That possibly extends to a concert version such as this with two outstanding performances from an ensemble where actually no one lets the side down, whether soloists, choruses, or orchestra.
With opera houses shut throughout the world some are coming up with innovative ways of emerging from the darkness into the light. For Naples’s prestigious Teatro di San Carlo this included two operas and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in the stunning nineteenth-century square in the centre of the city, not far I believe from the closed theatre itself.
A few days after it was recorded DG Stage streamed Puccini’s Tosca with Anna Netrebko, Yusif Eyvazov, and Ludovic Tézier. On the downside there were no subtitles, although having seen this opera couple of times recently I did not need them; on the plus side there were introductions (in English) from Netrebko, Tézier, and Eyvasov, when he could get a word in!
Italy was one of the European countries hardest hit by Covid-19 and these reopening performances were a sign of optimism for a better future, in stark contrast to the ‘We’re all doomed!’ mentality currently rife in the UK. I don’t know what the current regulations are in Italy but there was a vast platform where the musicians did not share music stands (yet I only saw one wearing a mask), and the choruses clearly adhered to similar social distancing, though this did not extend to the soloists.
Netrebko began by saying ‘This is both our debut in Napoli, it’s an amazing city with a great history of music … It’s not possible to make a set, it’s not possible to make a staging, so this is a concert performance, but we did the maximum … we used the space. Of course we performed the music, this is the most important thing, with little things that will help us to act.’ There was a stage director, Salvatore Giannini, listed and if he was responsible for what we saw he did a great job. This was undoubtedly an exceptionally fine Tosca performance given the circumstances. For those looking in online, video director Tiziano Mancini was able to insert some atmospheric images in the background. These included the interior of – I believe – Naples Cathedral standing in for the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle; the auditorium of the Teatro di San Carlo itself; as well as, some familiar Naples landmarks to represent the Palazzo Farnese and Castel Sant’Angelo.
Everyone knew their parts, though there was a suggestion of a teleprompter on the floor at the front of the stage. Anna Netrebko had a different glamorous ‘costume’ that was appropriate for her character’s appearances in the three acts whilst everyone else was in modern dress. Netrebko described Tosca as ‘A diva role and every soprano has to put the maximum to create the portrait of this amazing woman, which I think is not easy, and I think you have to be a very wise actress to play it. Just right, not too little, not too much, that’s what actually I’m trying to do.’ There is no doubt Netrebko was totally invested in her character and was every bit Puccini’s volatile heroine who is used to getting her own way and living life on her own terms. Tosca must be, by turns, carefree, flirtatious, fearful, incandescent, tender, and frantic. Netrebko was all that and more, but perhaps it is possible to suggest she oversang just a tad and sometimes was more Aida than Tosca. Mostly though, it was a never-ending stream of rich and radiant lyricism; in addition, full of – as appropriate – romantic yearning, jealously, vitriol, and, most significantly, self-delusion. A captivatingly prayerful ‘Vissi d’arte’ clearly revealed all the tiaraed Tosca’s heart-searching remorse over her current predicament. However, most intriguing of all was the ending when, for once, not only did Cavaradossi not believe in any fake execution, Netrebko’s subtle acting revealed how she, too, hoped for the best but feared the worst! No jumping from the parapets of course as this Tosca just exited through her adoring Neapolitan admirers!
Netrebko is regularly partnered by her husband, Yusif Eyvazov, and he sang Cavaradossi. I have seen him act better and perhaps he was hampered by a lack of a costume to hide behind. He seemed a little stiff and nervous and did not obviously relax until his curtain call. Nevertheless, his burly, full-throated tenor voice with stentorian top notes allowed him to do all that was required of him. Though not exactly the real showstoppers they can be, ‘Recondita armonia’ and ‘E lucevan le stelle’ (against a blue background) were suitably ardent in Act I and despairing of Cavaradossi’s fate in Act III.
Based on this, Ludovic Tézier’s Scarpia should not be missed if you get a chance ever to see him in the theatre. As Netrebko correctly said ‘We have in our cast one of the most amazing, amazing, French singer[s] … He is very strong both vocally and artistically and it is a pure joy to kill him’. For Tézier, Scarpia is a ‘seriously mad and sick guy … He has a fascination for theatre, I guess, and this is a great opportunity for him to “act” with the most beautiful and talented actress’. In his simple suit he could have been any twenty-first century #MeToo sexual predator who we encounter in today’s media. Tézier’s Scarpia drools over Tosca and the justification for his sadism is that he is the Chief of Police. His used an oleaginous baritone voice subtlety; one moment a phrase had palpable seductive allure, and the next his anger erupted volcanically.
Among some standout performances for all the smaller roles – from Riccardo Fassi’s luckless fugitive Angelotti, to the piping sounds of the young Lorenzo Narcisi’s Shepherd – Sergio Vitale’s busybody Sacristan stood out and – eschewing comic clichés – he made much more of his brief appearances than Puccini actually gives him.
There was no procession for the ‘Te Deum’, but the huge chorus got their moment in the spotlights and – Scarpia’s blasphemy notwithstanding – they were mightily impressive. As heard through my laptop speakers, conductor Juraj Valčuha (Teatro di San Carlo’s music director) did not bring anything new to this Tosca and no one would probably expect him too. He carefully accompanied his star singers, but to his credit, never stopped moving the music on whenever possible, nor ever let dramatic tension drop.