The Times, May 13 2011
Geoff Brown
Jonas Kaufmann: Tosca DVD
Jonas Kaufmann is so eloquent that the deficiencies flying around him on stage vanish as soon as he opens his mouth

The cover’s stick-on label reads “Jonas Kaufmann’s first Tosca DVD”, with the implication that a second will follow in due course. I certainly hope so, given the production digitally entombed on this Decca release.

The German singer with the romantic curls, soulful eyes and an excellent dark tenor voice has made a home for himself as Cavaradossi, the painter hero in Puccini’s opera. In a month’s time he’ll be appearing in a different production for two starry nights at Covent Garden. This DVD, filmed at the Zurich Opera House in 2009, shows why you might have to recruit the US Navy Seals to get a ticket.

Indeed, Kaufmann is so eloquent that the deficiencies flying around him vanish as soon as he opens his mouth. One of them, I rush to say, isn’t Emily Magee’s singing as Tosca. The American soprano works very hard as the titular singer, equally in love with Cavaradossi and the limelight. Even so, none of her flights can match Kaufmann’s for poetry or individuality. His own chestnut number, E lucevan le stelle, often given a right trumpeting, is sung with the half voice, pained and gentle, and becomes reborn.

Best of all, with Kaufmann’s performance you never sense a puppet strutting, a prevailing factor otherwise in Robert Carsen’s production, developed for Vlaamse Opera in 1991. Carsen trashes Puccini’s carefully delineated historical context — Rome, June 1800 — in favour of arid self-referential tricks, 1950s fashions, and a Tosca who swans about like Marilyn Monroe and Ava Gardner combined. Except when Kaufmann’s singing, it’s hard to feel involved.

The DVD viewing experience isn’t always helpful. Magee’s consciously exaggerated diva gestures don’t sit well on a TV screen. Thomas Hampson’s decently sung Scarpia fares better, especially when his villainy is expressed in the corners of eyes and lips. A modest word of praise, too, for Giuseppe Scorsin as the Sacristan, characterfully bumbling round Anthony Ward’s annoying sets in his pullover with holes.

Orchestrally, Paolo Carignani does his best to keep Puccini’s score pulsing along, hard and bright. But the music that matters comes from Kaufmann’s throat, mellifluously convincing no matter what the production’s ills.


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