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Bill White
Fanfare, July 2011

Tosca is certainly one of the most popular operas, as evidenced by the now 20-plus productions available on DVD. This set, from a live performance at the first-century Verona Arena in 2006, has been reviewed in Fanfare by Phillip Scott in 31:4 and the Blu-ray version by Andrew Quint in 32:6. Now it is appearing again in a new guise on the Arthaus label. The arena itself, a relic from Roman days, is very large and very impressive as a venue, with many seats. It makes you wonder how well people could see from the cheap seats back in the gladiator days. Actually, the arena is a tourist destination and there are no cheap seats any longer, but plenty that are far, far away, as can be seen when the camera pans over the impressive audience before the action begins. Performing an opera in such a massive setting requires large sets, busy staging, and broad acting to be a success, and we get plenty of all that here. It also helps to have a few horses or a couple of elephants, which unfortunately Tosca does not require, but live cannons, yes!

A gigantic head and detached hand holding a short sword as if parts from a very large dismantled statue are a case in point here. They share the stage throughout the opera with the more traditional trappings of church, police office, and castle ramparts for no discernible reason other than they are large and eye-catching, even from the back rows. Plenty of extras wend their way in and out, especially in the first act. We as video viewers get a different and probably much better perspective than most of those in attendance, with lots of close-ups of the action and changes of viewing perspective from multiple cameras. It lets us focus in close on the drama between the singers. Yes, the staging is busy, and some acting is broad, but the soul of Tosca the opera is under there to be found, especially for the camera.

The sound is also excellent on the DVD, much better, I suspect, than if you were in the audience, even though the singers and orchestra must all be amplified. The Arena di Verona Orchestra on disc sounds very fine playing some of Puccini’s best-known music under the leadership of Daniel Oren. As the other reviewers have pointed out, the singing is also quite good. I have never heard Marcello Álvarez sound better; he is in great voice on this particular night, and his “E lucevan le stelle” now has to be one of the best recorded anywhere. His acting is still a little wooden and he has lost a bit of his once-svelte figure, but his singing as Cavaradossi is a highlight of the set. Ruggero Raimondi is a perennial favorite as Scarpia, one of his signature roles; I believe this is his third time doing it on DVD alone. He still can produce plenty of nastiness as the villain of the piece and his singing still holds up quite well. I am a little less happy with the Tosca, Fiorenza Cedolins. She acts better than she sings…

Surprisingly, of the many available DVDs, very few offer serious competition. Some of the older sets suffer from poor sound or visuals and some of the newer ones from wayward production concepts. Because of the excellent sound and especially because of the fine singing of Álvarez, this Verona set matches up quite well with most of the others. Screen ratio is 16:9; sound is LPCM stereo, DD 5.1 and DTS 5.1. Subtitles are in five languages.

Robert Cummings
Classical Net, March 2011

I suppose many opera mavens have noticed that open-air productions have tended to be more traditional, not least because they are more lavish. And they are more lavish mainly because of logistics: in productions, for instance, that feature animals, like horses or even elephants, it is obviously easier to get them on stage at the Arena di Verona here or at the Austrian-based St. Margarethen Festival than it would be at the Met or Vienna State Opera. That said, there are no animals in this Tosca, but there are some very large sets, including a twenty-foot high painting of Jesus and Mary Magdalene that Cavaradossi is working on, and there are statues—really, ruins of statues—that include a huge bust of a Roman head and arm clutching a sword and crucifix, all items that would overwhelm a normal-sized stage. And there are canon blasts and gunshots that pack a wallop. Anyway, you get the picture—this open-air production takes advantage of available resources and logistics and is thus visually resplendent in its lavish scenery.

It also features historically accurate and attractive costuming, including Tosca’s glittering and colorful gowns (with lengthy train), Scarpia’s nobleman’s garb and uniform, and the strikingly opulent clerical attire of those in the huge procession during the famous number Tre sbirri. Incidentally, as the camera pans away at the end of Tre sbirri, the visual splendor on stage is almost indescribable in its size, mixture of colors and sense of balance.

Does the singing match the visual beauty of this production? Fiorenza Cedolins has been receiving mixed reviews in some quarters since she trimmed down a year or so before this production. Here, her dramatic skills are fine, especially as her character gets more and more desperate, and her voice is quite powerful and mostly attractive. There are a few spotty patches, but overall her performance is very effective. Her Vissi d’arte is sensitively sung and could compete with most other versions on record. The drama and passion she puts into this number is worthy of an acting award. No wonder the audience responded so enthusiastically.

Even more enthusiastic applause and cheers followed Marcelo Alvarez’s E lucevan le stelle, and his Recondita armonia was also splendidly sung and received. Arguably, he has delivered some of the finest portrayals of Cavaradossi in recent years. Though Ruggero Raimondi, sixty-four at the time of this performance, is past his prime, he turns in compelling work as Scarpia. The rest of the cast is strong and Daniel Oren, as usual, conducts with great insight and a fine sense for Puccini’s lush lyricism and colorful orchestration. The orchestra and chorus respond with spirit and accuracy. The sound, the one slight drawback of open-air performances, is a bit dry but quite detailed and powerful. The camera work is excellent.

…you may be able to find better-sung versions of Tosca, but you’ll encounter few, if any that can surpass this one in their visual splendor and overall production aspects.

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