Puccini – Tosca / Magee, Kaufmann, Hampson / Zurich Opera 2009 (3)

(Previous section here.)

This performance sounds quite nice. Puccini isn’t my favorite composer, and there are bits of the score, e.g. when the sacristan first comes in during Act I, that always sound over-busy and cute to me, like something from a Disney movie, but this is just me so never mind that.

One odd thing did strike me while listening to this. It’s hard to describe, but it happens twice, once before Cavaradossi’s “recondita armonia” and again before Tosca’s “vissi d’arte.” It’s like there’s this little breath, or break, or not quite a pause but a little disjuncture before the music moves into the ‘big moment.’ The conductor here is Paolo Carignani and this may be just a style thing. I didn’t dislike it – it was merely something I noticed.

Jonas Kaufmann as Cavaradossi brings the charisma and is consistently very easy on the ears – he’s really in his element with this kind of of ‘tormented young man’ part. Tosca is Emily Magee. Magee has a voice that I quite like, but while she is a good actor she isn’t particularly agile or graceful on stage – some sections of this look (but don’t sound) slightly awkward. (Then again, there isn’t an opera out there that doesn’t have moments that are hard to stage effectively – one of the ones in Tosca is the section in Act II where Tosca and Scarpia have to, or normally have to, physically tussle in such a way that does not also impede effective singing.) This will sound like praising a singer for the wrong thing but it isn’t – the throatier bits, when Tosca is speaking or shouting, sound perfect. There isn’t what I would call an overwhelming dramatic punch in terms of coherence of character here. I mean, it makes sense but I didn’t feel as if I ‘got’ Tosca in a way I hadn’t before.

Thomas Hampson’s Scarpia is not of the moustache-twirling type; neither is there as much of an obvious cruel edge as you sometimes see. The first part of “va, Tosca” at the end of Act I is unexpectedly quiet – it gathers force as it goes on. And we get the odd little flash of vulnerability in Act II, e.g. in Scarpia’s anger when he gets the news about Marengo and is taunted by Cavaradossi.

So. I am still not sure what I think about this production as a whole. It’s not that it doesn’t work in any obvious kind of way. But I didn’t get to the end of it thinking “yes! this makes perfect sense!” because it doesn’t, not quite. I think I can see why the production works the way it does in a general kind of way, but I am not sure that I know what the overall goal was. The concept didn’t quite click into focus for me.