Hits and misses in Munich Bayerische Staatsoper’s new production of Tosca

GermanyGermany Puccini, Tosca: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Bavarian State Opera / Andrea Battistoni (conductor). Nationaltheater Munich, 20.5.2024. (ALL)

Eleonora Buratto (centre front, Tosca) © Wilfried Hösl

Production ­­– Kornél Mundruczó
Set and Costume designer – Monika Pormale
Lighting designer – Felice Ross
Video – Rūdolfs Baltins
Dramaturgy – Kata Wéber, Malte Krasting
Chorus master – Christoph Heil

Floria Tosca – Eleonora Buratto
Mario Cavaradossi – Charles Castronovo
Scarpia – Ludovic Tézier
Cesare Angelotti – Milan Sijanov
Sacristan – Martin Snell
Spoletta – Tansel Akzeybek
Sciarrone – Christian Rieger
A shepherd boy – Tölzer Knabenchor Soloist
A jailer – Pawel Horoddyski

Puccini’s operas are masterpieces of drama, with sublime music and an extraordinary ability to write for singers. They are rarely overly long, and each measure counts (although some operas could delve deeper into character psychology). A production’s success begins with trusting the composer.

As you might guess from this introduction, this is not what Kornél Mundruczó, a filmmaker of great talent who previously gave us a riveting production of the The Makropolous Affair (review here) in Geneva, chose to do. Setting the action during Pasolini’s filming of ‘The 120 Days of Sodom’, Mundruczó’s concept for Tosca diverges significantly.

In this adaptation, Angelotti (Milan Sijanov) is part of the Red Brigades. It is important to remember that these are not freedom fighters or artists but an unjustifiably violent and infamous terrorist group. Do the artists realize that romanticizing such terrorist groups, regardless of nationality, is simply shocking?

Here, Cavaradossi (Charles Castronovo) is portrayed as a filmmaker like Pasolini, rather than a painter. It makes no sense that he should ask for brushes from the Sacristan (Martin Snell) and celebrates Napoleon’s victory at Marengo. The third act aria ‘E lucevan le stelle’ takes place as Cavaradossi/Pasolini sets up projectors to simultaneously show five excerpts from his films. How can one focus on the music when overwhelmed from all sides?

There are also many nude characters that may reference Pasolini but primarily seem intended to shock and scandalize, including a massage table that remains onstage for only five minutes. In short, it is a concept superficially plastered onto an opera that is sufficient on its own.

Yet the director occasionally knows how to direct actors and find ideas. This is evident when Tosca (Eleonora Buratto) enters the church after Scarpia’s arrival: the police recognize her and want to take photos with her. There is also a genuinely touching moment at the end of the second act when the former victims of Scarpia (Ludovic Tézier) gather around Tosca.

The musical level is uneven. Andrea Battistoni’s conducting is full of vigour and drama, but his orchestra was very loud. This is often the case in Munich, especially at premieres, but this exceeded anything I had heard before. In a rare occurrence for a conductor, the Battistoni was booed after the intermission.

Overall, the tempos were lively, except for a too-slow ‘Recondita armonia’ that complicated life for the tenor Charles Castronovo, who struggled with his pitch against the decibels of the orchestra. Eleonora Buratto, taking on her role for the first time, has a powerful voice with beautiful high notes and genuine Italianate quality. But the standout performer of the evening was undoubtedly Ludovic Tézier. Technically and vocally, he was the most capable of expression and communication as a stage performer. The Bavarian State Opera Chorus in the ‘Te Deumwas superb.

The audience will have many opportunities to revisit this production. Some issues typical of premieres might fade. It will be revived for the Munich opera festival in July with Lise Davidsen, Jonas Kaufmann, and Bryn Terfel. Big names, but will Puccini be there?

Antoine Lévy-Leboyer

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