Carsen’s Tosca

Toronto is belatedly getting to know one of its own.  Opera Director Robert Carsen, who’s made a name for himself worldwide has only recently directed productions in Toronto.

And how romantic is it that—as if to make up for lost time—we’re seeing his work every year?

  • In 2010-2011 (in the spring of 2011) the Canadian Opera Company’s Orfeo ed Euridice was one of the highlights at the end of a stellar season.
  • In 2011-2012 (autumn of 2011) COC followed with Iphigenia in Tauris to inaugurate the following season.
  • In 2012-2013, the third in the series is Dialogues des Carmelites coming next season.
Tosca DVD

click on image for more info on obtaining the DVD from Amazon

How could I then resist picking up a DVD of Tosca directed by our favourite son?

Carsen’s style is wonderfully distinctive even while working from the text.

The two Gluck operas were at times astonishing, even as they hewed closely to the text. Orfeo ed Euridice gave us a world as if perpetually mourning, ashes and precious fire, making the spare enactment of the story stunningly powerful.  In Iphigenia Carsen showed us the nasty implications of a story that’s too often glossed over in the emphasis some directors place on a friendship between two men with homoerotic undertones; like it or not (and I am not sure I did like it), he told the story that’s in the text.

That’s more or less the reality of his Tosca, originally produced for the Opernhaus Zürich, in a sparkling television production with excellent sound & precise camerawork.

This time the organizing principle is found in Tosca’s life in the theatre.  Without giving anything away –and I believe very strongly in spoiler-free reviews—this story is told in a meta-theatrical way, emphasizing the idea that for Tosca, life is one big performance.

If Tosca is going to work on you it requires some kind of chemistry among its principals.  Emily Magee?  I’d never encountered before, but find her singing more than adequate.  Her take on the complex artist that is Tosca is at least sufficiently deep to stay afloat in some heady company.  I believe the two male leads are –in addition to the fascinating mise en scène— the chief reasons to obtain this DVD.

Count me among those who has been holding his breath throughout Jonas Kaufmann’s career, a bit amazed that the voice works so well.  He sounds too dark for this Fach although this sound is right for roles such as Siegmund (in which he starred at the Met in their High Definition broadcast, although he had to bow out of last season’s Ring Cycle) or Parsifal (to which I look forward eagerly in the coming Met High Def season).  Kaufmann was absent from the stage for much of 2012, although he’s eased back in recently in a concert where he was reportedly in good voice.  I hope he’s okay.

Kaufmann brings an interesting combination of skills, combining an uncommon voice, good looks, and genuine acting ability.  He never seems to be out of character; he never lets the audience down when the camera is upon him. Carsen brings out the artist in Cavaradossi as no director I’ve ever seen.  It helps that Kaufmann can pull this off.

His rival for Tosca and the audience’s admiration is Thomas Hampson, cast against type as Scarpia.  This is a subtler Scarpia than many I’ve seen, commanding without needing to overwhelm, vocally gorgeous throughout.  Need I add, he problematizes the triangle by making Scarpia something of an attractive option for Tosca.  Only in his last scene do we see his true colours, which emerge in their full fury.

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