PUCCINI: Tosca (complete opera) (1985)

by | Jan 24, 2007 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

PUCCINI: Tosca (complete opera) (1985)

Soloists: Hildegard Behrens, Plácido Domingo, Cornell MacNeil, James Courtney, Italo Tajo, Anthony Laciura, Russell Christopher /Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Conductor: Giuseppe Sinopoli
Production and Set Design: Franco Zeffirelli
Studio: Deutsche Grammophon
Video: 4:3, color
Audio:  DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, PCM Stereo
Subtitles & Menu: English
Extras: Picture Gallery; Artists’ Discussion; “Tosca, Zeffirelli, and Rome” featurette
Length: 123 mins.; 36 mins. (extras)
Rating: ***1/2

In the extras of this DVD of Tosca, Zeffirelli says that “opera is essential [basic]; it can’t be sophisticated.” And yet this 1985 production of the opera, the second for the famed designer (the first was in 1964 at Covent Garden), is anything but basic. In fact, it is highly sophisticated, especially in its sumptuous replication onstage of the three buildings in Rome that Puccini specifies: Sant’Andrea della Valle, the Palazzo Farnese, and Castel Sant’Angelo. For sheer visual pleasure, this may well be the best Tosca available on video.

In addition to the visual delights, the viewer will revel in the excellent surround sound and in Maestro Sinopoli’s long, lush musical lines. This was Sinopoli’s only engagement at the Met, and he conducts the opera with brio and drama. The Act 3 overture in particular is lyrical and grand at the same time, with Sinopoli eliciting delectable drama from his musicians. A bit later, the violins ache and throb during Domingo’s opening lines.

As we might expect, Domingo is peerless in the role of Cavaradossi, the painter. His “Recondita armonia” (Act 1) is ardent, virile, and passionately sung. In “E lucevan le stele” (Act 3), he begins the aria with warm and languorous tones, gradually reaching its apex of anguish and despair with heartbreaking splendor. His acting is almost as masterly. As a prisoner condemned to death, he is ashen-faced as he tenderly kisses Tosca’s hands.

Behrens is a competent actress and a believable coquette, but her acting is too sweet, even anxious, for the imperious and impetuous Tosca. Although Behrens is a good dramatic singer, her voice lacks the lyrical smoothness required by Puccini. It is too patchy, heavy, and at times inaccurate. For heartfelt intensity, as in her “Vissi d’arte,” however, she can’t be faulted. Unfortunately, her final leap is quite perfunctory, as though she had performed this scene a thousand times before.

MacNeil as Scarpia is a sophisticated sociopath. His snakelike eyes and feral mouth are perfectly suited to his role. Although his voice can be monotonous, his “Va Tosca” rings in one’s ears for a long time after the curtain has descended.

– Dalia Geffen

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