, February 2009
Just after raving about how spectacular the Doktor Faust Blu-ray was  we catch up with yet another fantastic Blu-ray from Naxos, this time through their [distributed] TDK label. Here we have an incredible production of Puccini’s Tosca, which is perhaps one of my favorite operas and this version is magnificent to say the least, its arrival to Blu-ray could convert even the least inclined…Tosca is a three-act Italian opera with libretty by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, which would be based on Victorien Sardou’s La Tosca and is translated to new heights as it was premiered in Rome in the year 1900. Since that time it remains not only one of Puccini’s strongest entries, but certainly one of the most performed and is still critically valued even to this day. For this production we are treated to a really unique experience being performed outdoors in the Arena di Verona, which is an enormous coliseum with incredible acoustics and history that only aids to the overall experience.
The story is a sweeping tale of a huge magnitude dealing with the tragic relationship between a romantic painter and a beautiful woman, but of course incorporates all the typical opera elements of betrayal, suicide, love, death, and everything in between. What has captivated audiences for over a century still has power to this day with its politically charged message, its overpowering orchestral display, and a powerful tale that never loses steam even through three solid acts. What is memorable though is the music and the libretto that is achingly beautiful throughout and regardless of whether you speak Italian or not, the performance here (particularly Ruggero Raimondi and Fiorenza Cedeloni) is brilliant and riveting at the same time. This is an opera that is hard to turn on and then disengage from.
The performance here is particularly mesmerizing on just about every single level; it’s this production in particular that will simply astonish viewers because it transports you right to the moment, right inside the Arena di Verona. I was skeptical at first on how this would translate to Blu-ray, but upon inserting the disc into my machine, I was quickly wisped away to another time and place, it took me to Rome and beyond. Being an outdoor production the Blu-ray is staggering in it’s level of detail with a 1.78 X 1 framed 1080i High Definition picture that showcases some incredible level of detail. While lighting is a bit different here due to the more naturally intended schemes since the staging is limited, it’s incredible how the resolution is still strong. It’s also fair to say that overall resolution and depth is a shade below some of the other strong titles released from Naxos on their OpusArte or Arthaus labels. I attribute this to perhaps slightly lesser quality camera and the transfer does show some bit of jitter throughout that is very noticeable in certain scenes. Depth, color, and clarity are still very strong with the incredible sets looking marvelously rich and vibrant. Close-up shots look a bit sharper, while some of the wider shots appear softer, which could be attributed to outdoor shooting.
The sound on the other hand is incredibly strong in both of it’s incarnations, a stunning DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless track and a PCM 2.0 lossless track, which are both equally stunning in their own rights. Like many of the opera titles that we have covered from the various labels, this one will ultimately come down to preference. Again, since this is an outdoor production I was curious about the sound, in particular I was curious how the vocals would come across in comparison to the orchestra. It’s certainly fair to say that while the mix is lively and sweeping it also has a few minor problems, the biggest though is consistency. Some of the performers are easier to hear than others and the overall vocal volume is more up and down, this is more noticeable in the 5.1 mix. The 2.0 PCM mix’s downside though is that it’s less engaging and does not give the atmosphere that the 5.1 mix does, it does seem to present a cleaner version of the production, but the atmosphere of the 5.1 is preferred as well and brings the viewer/listener into the performance, again this will be a preference call.
In addition to the picture gallery and trailer for Giselle, there is also a BD-Live feature that allows you to access an online gallery of trailers for other Naxos titles and will likely be a one-time through supplement that is more promotional than supplemental in most people’s minds. There is also a booklet included that helps give some context to the production as well and is a great addition to an astonishingly great production of one of the finest operas ever written!
We hope to see more material from TDK and despite some very minor picture and sound issues; this is one title that should be on any serious Blu-ray or opera fanatic’s shelf.