L’Ape musicale

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Absolute passion

by Susanne Krekel

Munich Staatsoper on 20.02.2022 - There are certain iconic works that characterise a whole genre all by themselves. Puccini’s Tosca is an example. In this piece, everything is over- and one-dimensional, emotions and personalities of the characters - love, jealousy, cruelty, heroism… There is no room for irony or humour in this work (except maybe the character of the sexton, but he doesn’t really count), but then, after all, there is no room for that in politics either.

The late Luc Bondy’s 2009 production has the merit of being historical and timeless, with a sober and evocative stage design by Richard Peduzzi. There is the church, Scarpia’s place, and the Castel Sant’Angelo, large spaces sparsely furnished: Cavaradossi’s painter’s stage in the church, Scarpia’s place has two sofas and chairs and a military map on the wall - oh, and the padded door that leads to the torture chamber. The costumes by Milena Canonero are equally simple and telling: Cavaradossi appears in riding boots and shirtsleeves, obviously a man of action as well as an artist. The uniforms of Scarpia and his henchmen point to a certain epoch without being all to precise, and the black top hats give the black-coated guards a most sinister look. Floria Tosca finally appears in a blue frock in Act I, and in a sensual red dress for her encounter with Scarpia.

It’s a timeless story: the Scarpias of this world are crawling out of their holes ever more unashamedly, and the Cavaradossis are still tortured and murdered. The Toscas have grown a bit streetwise, maybe, and are not so easily duped. Although… „Iago had a handkerchief, I have a fan,” says Scarpia. Nowadays, he might have a smartphone with a dubious chatline, or else a job offer gone to a rival: The mechanisms of manipulation haven’t changed. There is no room for irony in deep and utter badness, there is only sarcasm towards the victims, and the cynicism of his hypocrisy, and how we hate him. Ambrogio Maestri plays the villain perfectly. His powerful voice can be heard even over the orchestra’s fortissimo passages, it becomes caressing, menacing, and yet pleasant to hear. Saioa Hernández is just as wonderful in the role of Floria Tosca. If we thought her a trifle shrill in the first exchanges with Cavaradossi, that was because a jealous woman can’t control the tone of her voice - later we come to love her expressive and sweet soprano, rounded and strong, deeply touching in her aria „Vissi d’arte”. And Piotr Bezcała sings Cavaradossi with a master’s voice. Fluid legato, barytonal warmth in the deep passages, he is an artist, a rebel, a lover. During the love scenes in Act I, the actor’s play seems a bit stiff, but that is due probably to two years of contact restrictions - both singers launch into their arias without restraint. „E lucevan le stelle” is the moving lament of a prisoner who knows that he is about to die. Bezcała gives it his all, we are with him, we feel with him the bitter regret of having to leave this life and his love, and the thundering applause that salutes him at the end is due indeed.

Carlo Rizzi conducts the Staatsoper Orchestra smoothly, he directs, dams, releases, reinforces or holds back the continuous flow of melodies that is Puccini’s music, and the excellent wind ensemble highlights all the fine and moving details of the score.

What a lovely evening, ending with endless and well-deserved applause, and a few thoughts about the timelessness of sadism and greed for power.




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