The main reason to see this generally
better-than-competent Tosca DVD is the singing and acting of
tenor Jonas Kaufmann. Beyond his movie-star looks, Kaufmann is
simply the best lyric/dramatic tenor singing today. His utterly
smooth use of the entire range of dynamics is unique among
modern tenors, and it is always put to musical as well as
dramatic effect. His sound is in itself thrilling & dark,
baritonal, with plenty of 'squillo' in his loud tops; yet he can
also sing a perfectly modulated piano, even on the top notes, so
well focused that he can expand it smoothly to full volume if
In his late 30s, he is in his
prime vocally, athletic and compelling in appearance, and able
to make scenes we have seen too often fresh and exciting.
Dramatically, he is always into the role, and it's hard to take
one's eyes off of him. In this live performance from Zurich,
both of his arias are excellent and unlike any other tenor's. In
the Act One duet, he begins the line, 'What other eyes could
compare with your passionate dark eyes?' (English subtitles)
very softly and slowly so that he can build the line in an
utterly thrilling way that gives goose bumps. (We watched this
DVD with 15 opera friends, and the most sophisticated of them
whispered to me that he felt like he was hearing that line for
the first time ever!)
Emily Magee (Tosca) has a
big voice, and is much better suited to this role than Karita
Mattila was in the Met Live in HD presentation. Magee may not be
a great Tosca, but she is more than adequate. She handles the
dramatic outbursts of Act Two very well, never pushing her big
voice into screaming or, as so often happens with under-powered
singers, into a big wobbling vibrato.
Thomas Hampson is
the big surprise. He is a near-great Scarpia, never
over-singing, as he did in the Met's Live in HD Thais. His is
not a big Scarpia-type voice, but he succeeds by singing well
and by crafty acting, never over the top but powerful. Scary.
Mic work is well done at all times, which makes Hampson's voice
perhaps bigger than it sounded in the Zurich opera house.
The production is mostly traditional. The 'Te Deum' that
closes Act One has a visually spectacular finish. The large
chorus is well recorded for an effective curtain. In fact the
sound and picture in general are excellent for DVD. (No Blu-ray
disc is available.) Paolo Carignani conducts the Zurich forces
with idiomatic flair, and the orchestra is powerful without ever
swamping the voices.
The all-important confrontations
between Scarpia and Tosca in Act Two are effective, if less than
memorable. Magee's 'Vissi d'arte' is fine too, although there
are many who do it as well or better.
rapidly expanding catalogue of opera performances includes
Carmen, Lohengrin, and Werther, all highly recommended, as well
as a Fidelio that I have not yet seen.