Tosca by Giacomo Puccini. Melodramma in three acts. 1899. Libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, after the play La Tosca by Victorien Sardou. First performance at the Teatro Costanzi, Rome, on 14th January 1900.
Performance attended: premiere, 4 December 2021, Teatro dell’Opera di Roma.
FLORIA TOSCA: SAIOA HERNÁNDEZ
MARIO CAVARADOSSI: VITTORIO GRIGOLO
BARON SCARPIA: ROBERTO FRONTALI
A SACRISTAN: ROBERTO ABBONDANZA
CESARE ANGELOTTI: LUCIANO LEONI
SPOLETTA: SAVERIO FIORE
TEATRO DELL’OPERA DI ROMA ORCHESTRA AND CHORUS
CONDUCTOR: PAOLO ARRIVABENI
DIRECTOR: ALESSANDRO TALEVI
TOSCA, the Original Version
In contemporary theatre productions, there is often a strange dualism: on the one hand, we have the research, sometimes crazy, not to say fanatic, of the “original version”, meant in a strictly musical sense only. Period instruments, original scores, the elimination of philologically “incorrect” performance practices, the abolition of arbitrary cuts and so on, are now elements that carry some weight in the evaluations of current criticism. On the other hand, the same attention is not given to the mise-en-scène, where in fact the versions less faithful to the libretto, or stagings where the entire opera is reinvented, in a naive (and useless) attempt to bring elements of innovation, are generally preferred. Therefore, nowadays we are unlikely to find a Rosina performed by a soprano, as was the custom throughout the 20th century. At the same time, however, we will have just as much difficulty in attending a staging that does not differ too much from the original one. This appears all the more evident in the most popular titles, where there is a tendency toward an ever greater search for “innovation at any cost.”
After the innovative proposals of Giovanna d’Arco and the new and never performed Julius Caesar, the Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera is once again presenting a title of sure appeal: Tosca by Giacomo Puccini. And it is doing so with a decidedly courageous and unusual choice: to stage the “original version”, this time not intended in musical terms, but as a revival of the historic staging of the first absolute performance, which took place right in the Roman theater on January 14, 1900.
An operation actually already carried out in 2015 and resumed in the following years, which allowed even the youngest audience to admire excellent old scenography techniques, nowadays increasingly replaced by cheaper projections, light effects and little else. The costumes, the painted canvases and all the elements of the scene were made by hand in the laboratories of Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera, one of the few in the world still preserving both ancient sartorial and canvas pictorial techniques. Thanks to the false perspectives, the gorgeous sets and costumes, and the detailed furnishings, this historical staging was impressive to an audience increasingly accustomed to bare, or on the contrary, very tacky fixed scenes, in any case extremely remote from the requirements of the libretto. Credit for this revival undoubtedly goes to the costume designers and set designers Carlo Savi, Anna Biagiotti and Vinicio Cheli, who led the workers of the Rome Opera.
With this premises, it seems obvious that the direction followed the action in an extremely natural way, exactly as described in the libretto. For once, therefore, there were no mimes, dancers, or disturbing extraneous elements that are so abundantly present in most of the recent productions. At the same time, the various scenic elements were perfectly functional to the performance of the opera itself. The work of Alessandro Talevi, director of the above-mentioned 2015 edition, was therefore excellent. He respected even the most static and introspective scenes, (such as “Vissi d’arte” or the beginning of the third act, for example), which are often destabilized by very questionable directorial ideas.
Coming to the musical aspect, it is necessary to emphasize first of all the excellent direction of Maestro Paolo Arrivabeni. The clarity of his reading perfectly allowed the audience to follow the development of the numerous leitmotifs, and their subtle metamorphoses. The musical color was also excellently presented, in its many aspects. For example, the majestic end of the first act was powerful and effective, while the finale secondo sounded dark and terrible. The “secondary” elements were given ample attention as well, which Puccini actually cared a lot about, such as the bells that are heard during the opening of the third act. The idea of placing part of the percussion section on a side stage was also particularly good (perhaps dictated by needs related to the pandemic), increasing the effect of “spatial three-dimensionality” of the orchestral sound.
The protagonist Tosca was sung by the Spanish soprano Saioa Hernández, whose voice unfortunately is not exceptionally clean, but immensely powerful, capable of being heard even in moments of greater sound intensity. Her more lyrical moments, where some of the “harshness” is ironed out, are certainly appreciable.
Vittorio Grigolo gave voice to the painter Cavaradossi. While his palpable enthusiasm may be appreciable, his vocal excesses do not always fully convince. For example, on the words “le belle forme disciogliea dai veli”, the tenor faded the voice to the point of being almost inaudible. Despite these “exuberances” (or perhaps thanks to them), the public gave him a real ovation, clamoring for an encore for “E lucevan le stelle”.
Scarpia was sung by Roberto Frontali, who as a veteran performed the role with great elegance and confidence. His voice could be threatening when necessary, falsely persuasive, imperative, in any case able to perfectly characterize the different facets of the terrible Baron.
The performances of the various supporting singers were also exceptionally good, from the funny Sacristan by Roberto Abbondanza to the dramatic and intense fugitive Angelotti by Luciano Leoni, to the role of Spoletta, well played by Saverio Fiore. Finally, the choir directed as always by Roberto Gabbiani, to which the white voices of the Scuola di Canto Corale del Teatro dell’Opera di Roma were added, was also excellent. A special mention deserves the “white voice” Carola Finotti in the off-stage role as the little shepherd.
At the end of the evening, the audience responded with great warmth, a clear sign that “novelty at all costs” is not needed to convey the messages and emotions that the Opera intrinsically carries with it.