Puccini - Tosca

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A virtually perfect Tosca, no doubt about it.

Mar 12, 2008
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Suspense:

Pros:Perfect cast, perfect setting, fabulous performance.

Cons:Occasional itsy-bitsy imperfection in photography.

The Bottom Line: This is Puccini's most perfect opera, given what is probably its most perfect performance. Only stubborn Philistines who hate the very idea of opera won't like it.


Plot Details: This opinion reveals no details about the movie's plot.

Puccini’s reputation as a verismo composer is based primarily on La Boheme – a wonderful opera, but neither typical nor his best. His last opera was Turandot, and there’s nothing of verismo about it – a grand, grand opera, a fairytale opera, an opera of princesses and princes. Sometimes I lean toward considering Turandot Puccini’s best.

However, most of the time I can’t overcome the notion that Tosca was the best thing he ever wrote. As a drama the opera’s concision magnifies its dramatic punch – or perhaps its powerful drama makes it seem shorter than it really is. This performance is less than 2 hours long and holds the viewer on the edge of his or her seat even if she or he is thoroughly familiar with it. Puccini’s music shines in its brilliance like a nearby nova. His 4-note descending leitmotiv for Scarpia and his villainy is among the best such theme written … if not the best. The short theme which introduces and ends Act I is also a marvel of revelatory concision. Tosca’s libretto is one of the best constructed in opera. Each act moves naturally to its own climax, each climax more poignant than the one previous.

If Tosca were not such a well-known opera, it might be worthwhile to rehearse the plot here. As it is, plenty of reviews go through it and of course nowadays there’s Wikipedia to provide as much information as one might wish.

This production of Tosca is as close to perfect as we’re likely to get. To begin with, and most particularly, it’s filmed in the exact locations in Rome specified by the libretto. The grandeur of these settings, particularly in Act I, magnifies the effect of the performance.

Secondly, the principal roles are portrayed by 3 outstanding singing actors. I’ve never encountered Rania Kabaivanska before, but her portrayal of Tosca is outstanding. Her passions are utterly convincing and her beauty is exactly the sort that would inflame Scarpia’s heart (or whatever he has in the center of his chest). Her expressions and demeanor are always totally appropriate to her words and her situation. Her voice may not be considered ravishing, but it’s clear and musical in all registers. She’s completely believable as an Italian diva of old Italy (except perhaps several stone lighter). Play her performance of “Vissi d’arte” a few time. It’s glorious. She follows the modern style of doing it on the floor, but only on her knees and not sprawled out. The performance itself evokes nothing so much as the great Maria Callas, her voice ringing and yet somehow showing her sense of strain.

One has only to see and hear Plácido Domingo in any role to become convinced he is its most effective avatar. Here he is Cavaradossi down to his heels. His voice is a clear, ringing instrument – and hardly any modern tenor (save perhaps Alfredo Kraus) could match him for effective acting and stage presence.

Sherrill Milnes is, always has been, the quintessential Scarpia. His facial expressions are chilling … watch him particularly at the end of Act I, during his monologue beginning “Go, Tosca!” and ending, “Tosca, you make me forget god!” The lasciviousness, the cunning, the malice of the man are palpable.

I've seen review elsewhere complaining of poor mixing in this recording, making the orchestra tend to drown out the singers. I don’t hear that on my version. Perhaps it has been re-mixed along the way – although I can recall one instance of the brass being a little over-raucous and treading on Domingo’s toes.

Tosca is one of the 10 greatest operas ever written (see my list on Amazon). This performance is the best, or one of the very best, on DVD. You can hardly afford not to get it, particularly as the price is the lowest around for a complete performance of a full opera. I should note that the photography sometimes looks just the tiniest bit fuzzy. But don’t miss it, even if you only get it as a rental.


Recommend this product? Yes


Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Better than Watching TV
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older

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