The revival of a warhorse such as Tosca in a decades-old production is perhaps not the most exciting event of the season on paper, but the consummate performances of its cast, especially tenor Attila Fekete, made this outing of Puccini's classic memorable, even in an unengaging staging.

Attila Fekete (Cavaradossi) and Gyöngyi Lukács (Tosca) © Vera Eder
Attila Fekete (Cavaradossi) and Gyöngyi Lukács (Tosca)
© Vera Eder

Viktor Nagy’s production, first seen in 1993, meticulously follows the instructions of the libretto with a few original touches thrown in, but sadly that did not prove to be enough for a compelling realization of the piece. Above all, the direction of the singers was lacking, leading to stock gestures and park-and-bark delivery (most notably and frustratingly in Alexandru Agache’s case), the dramatic tension undermined by unconvincing gestures and interactions. Tamás Vayer’s sets are also an odd case, looking curiously alike, with the Church of Sant'Andrea della Valle, Scarpia’s room at Palazzo Farnese and the Castel Sant’Angelo having the same drab, greenish-grey stone walls, and even with the usual trappings, the stage was kept rather sparse. Thankfully, however, the musical performances were of a much higher standard.

Alexandru Agache (Scarpia) and Attila Fekete (Cavaradossi) © Tomas Opitz
Alexandru Agache (Scarpia) and Attila Fekete (Cavaradossi)
© Tomas Opitz

The most impressive of the principals was undoubtedly the clarion-voiced Attila Fekete, singing throughout at full throttle: his “Recondita armonia” was ardent, with a beautiful diminuendo at the end, his “E lucevan le stelle” heartfelt and heartwrenching, and his cries of “Vittoria!” shook the very foundations of the house. Combining a ringing tone (at times reminiscent of Franco Corelli), remarkable stamina, and rock-solid high notes, his singing was an absolute thrill to hear.

Most likely troubled by the very early start of the performance, it took most of Act I for Gyöngyi Lukács to rein in her voice, weighed down by heavy vibrato, a sharp edge on the high notes and variable diction, though she remained very tender and lyrical in the quieter passages. She was at her best in Act II, a true stage animal, poignant in her vulnerability and mesmerizing in her fury, her bright soprano burning with intensity. Uneven as it might have been, her performance was gripping.

Gyöngyi Lukács (Tosca) and Alexandru Agache (Scarpia) © Tomas Opitz
Gyöngyi Lukács (Tosca) and Alexandru Agache (Scarpia)
© Tomas Opitz

Alexandru Agache was vocally near-perfect as Scarpia with his dark, orotund baritone and his singing masterful, but his portrayal of the character never quite rose above that of a comic-book villain, conveying neither the suavity nor the terrifying menace of the role; indeed, it was hard to see why Spoletta or the Sacristan would be cowering before this man.

Best of the minor roles was András Hábetler’s Sacristan, vividly characterized and hilarious. Ferenc Cserhalmi’s Angelotti was adequately sung, but so overacted that his portrayal was almost comic. László Haramza and András Káldi Kiss delivered well as Spoletta and Sciarrone.

Conductor Gergely Kesselyák was at his best when the music was dark and bombastic, flooding the auditorium with overpowering waves of sound. However, the intensity occasionally sagged, and at times one wished for a richer rendering of Puccini’s luscious score that the HSO’s fine orchestra is capable of delivering; but overall he did a fine job. Even with the shortcomings of the staging, the dedicated performances of these musicians make this run well worth catching.