Boleslaw Barlog’s Tosca is one of the most beloved opera productions in Berlin: it has been running at the Deutsche Oper since 1969 and it doesn’t show any signs of ageing. It is a traditional production: the sets follow the indications on the libretto, the costumes (Filippo Sanjust) are from the right historical period (year 1800). There are very beautiful images – the “Te Deum” in the first act and the sun slowly rising over Rome in the third. It is unusual to see a very traditional production enjoy such success in Berlin. Tosca is indeed one of the operas for which a time shift would be very awkward, as the action takes place in a very specific day, with historical events mentioned in the plot, but this has never stopped any opera director. In my opinion, the über-famous video of the second act of Tosca – the only visual relic of Maria Callas’ immense artistry – has forever engraved in the hearts and minds of opera buffs what Tosca looks like, and maybe it makes this opera a little harder to modernise than others.

Tosca at Deutsche Oper Berlin (2009)
© Bettina Stöß (2009)

The plot is an over-the-top psycho-thriller and it can work only thanks to Puccini’s score, which manages to masterfully describe the increasingly rapid pace of events. Yoel Gamzou’s orchestral conducting tended at times towards slightly sluggish tempos, with the singers somewhat chomping at the bit; particularly, in Act 1 (“Recondita armonia”, “Non la sospiri la nostra casetta”) and in the off-stage cantata in Act 2, where pit and stage seemed in disagreement. In the most frenzied parts of Act 2, however, the conductor managed to give his unfaltering support to the singers, leading the ensemble in an exciting performance. The sound of the orchestra of the Deutsche Oper was, as usual, luscious and rich, every section shining with a wonderful legato and extreme precision. The brass and the cello quartet at the beginning of Act 3 were particularly remarkable.

The performance saw the debut at the Deutsche Oper of two of the lead singers: Saioa Hernández as Tosca and Ludovic Tézier as Scarpia. They both managed to win the hearts of the Berlin audience with a great performance. Hernández’ full, strong soprano proved to be very well suited to the role; if the more lyrical moments were perhaps lacking some delicacy, she was irresistible in the more dramatic ones. Her whole second act was spectacular, her high notes big, confident, full of harmonics, her dynamics thoughtful and intelligent, her acting convincing and powerful. And she nailed the high C in Act 3 (the famous “do della lama”) with a fierce, splendid, earth-shattering sound. A very exciting Tosca.

Tézier’s noble demeanour on stage and the legendary elegance of his voice could ironically become a hindrance in playing a super-villain like Scarpia: as I had never heard him in this role, I was doubtful he could be a convincing despicable character. His artistry proved me wrong. His Scarpia was more a psychological abuser and manipulator than a lecherous libertine, but he perfectly managed to convey the pure evil, the total lack of empathy of the character, while still emphasising his aristocratic countenance (Scarpia is, after all, a Baron). The director underlined the conflict in the villain’s heart, showing him sincerely distraught during the “Te Deum”, consumed by guilt as he lusts after Tosca instead of participating in the prayer to God. Tézier’s interpretation was wonderful, based on a warm timbre, perfect legato and a remarkable breath technique.

Mario Cavaradossi, Tosca’s lover, was Jorge de Léon with a natural, enthusiastic tenor, good high notes and a beautiful smile. His Cavaradossi was a young lover, a hothead, impetuous and passionate. His “E lucean le stelle” was beautiful and heartfelt.

In the minor roles, Jörg Schörner stood out as Spoletta, with an appropriately mellifluous tone and good acting abilities.