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Subject: Re: Tosca at the Zurich Opera xpost
From: Basia <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Basia <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Mon, 30 Mar 2009 20:07:34 +0200

text/plain (199 lines)

I saw the production twice in Antwerp, some 15 (?) years ago and I 
_loved_ it!
It was brilliant, clever, logical and very consequent.
Carsen is the one who "invented" the idea of theatre at the theatre 
(remember his Hoffman in Paris?). He is also the one who uses 
reminiscences of (old) film diva's en refer to the old movies.
He is one of the very few stage directors I truly admire.

best wishes from the sunny (spring at last!) Amsterdam,

Beckmesserschmitt schreef:
> If patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, then, I suspect 
> that setting a play within a play, as was the case for the Zurich 
> prima of the Robert Carsen Tosca tonight, is the last refuge of the 
> intellectually bankrupt, and we are clearly, worldwide, in the midst 
> of a serious crisis of intellectual cash flow. The production is not 
> objectionable in the way that Mary Zimmerman's immature and 
> denigrating Sonnambula is - but then, what is? - and in fact there are 
> moments that work, I think, quite well, but the overall effect fails 
> for me because Carsen seems unable to perceive, or at least to 
> transmit to the audience, the complexity of both Scarpia - surely 
> Puccini's greatest creation, and one of the mostsubtle and powerful 
> characters ever put on the operatic stage - and to a lesser degree 
> Tosca herself. The conceit for the setting, which only becomes 
> apparently over time, is that the production, which is largely done in 
> modern-day dress (but why is the gendarmerie in Act III wearing shakos 
> and period costume?), takes place on some kind of large stage - the 
> first act is ostensibly set in a church, but with rows and rows of 
> empty chairs facing up stage (Ionesco, anyone?) and at the very end of 
> the act a tableau vivante is revealed behind the upstage curtains. 
> Scarpia, initially oddly, appears above the stage floor, grasping one 
> of the large pillars, and this doesn't make sense until Act II (run 
> together with Act III), which takes place in Scarpia's 'apartment', 
> which is just off the setting we'd seen in Act I (you can see one of 
> the pillars outside of his door) and there's a large drop curtain half- 
> way upstage that says that smoking is forbidden). So by now we know 
> that we are in some kind of elaborate stage setting, and for Act III, 
> the upstage fire curtain rises, and we are, as the audience, upstage, 
> while Cavaradossi faces further upstage, on a raked stage, where the 
> footlights are. 
> None of this is particularly terrible, and in fact, as I say, for 
> moments it works pretty well. I wasn't upset about all the empty 
> chairs in Act I - if you accept that this is modern dress, perhaps the 
> empty chairs are evidence of 'disappeared' victims of Scarpia, and in 
> any case it's not a really disorienting moment. In Act II, the large 
> portrait of the Madonna/dark-eyed Tosca that Cavaradossi has been 
> painting is now leaning up against one of the walls of Scarpia's 
> quarters, and Scarpia at times caresses it - not a terrible idea, and 
> it gives you a sense of his obsession, and you accept that he tears it 
> apart with a knife (and we know what that knife will be used for 
> later) at the climax of his first duet with Tosca in Act II. Also, 
> accepting that this Tosca is in modern dress, I thought it effective 
> that Scarpia ostentatiously applauds Tosca after Vissi d'arte - it's 
> of a piece with the concept, and could be consistent with the 
> character. There are lots of other little moments that make sense, but 
> Carsen can't tell a good idea from a terrible idea (Tosca undresses to 
> her lingerie to seduce Scarpia into the rape, although she keeps her 
> shoes on....I wonder what kind of dvds she's been watching at 
> home....) and as she stabs him, she then mounts him, and is virtually 
> prone over him as he expires. To add infamy in insult, she takes a 
> program from THIS production, with Emily Magee's picture on it, and 
> dumps it on him just about the time of the "E avanti a lui...." 
> The real problem isn't the junk, though, for's that Carsen 
> has no idea of who these characters are. Scarpia is a tremendously 
> complex man, of a specific time and place, and if you're going to 
> update this, then you'd better keep the complexity. In Carsen's 
> staging, Scarpia is reduced to a petty functionary with generalized 
> authoritarian 'leanings', and the impact of the role is far less for 
> that. Tosca is treated as a Barbie-doll...she's given all kinds of 
> semi-sarcastic attitudinizing....she puts on dark glasses for her 
> second exit in Act I, and signs a waiting autograph seeker's 
> program....and again, the inner complexity of the character (this was 
> a great Sarah B role,remember) is reduced to a fact, 
> she takes her initial curtain call at the end of the opera facing 
> upstage, at the footlights (which is where she jumped from, into the 
> audience or pit.....has Mr. Carsen ever heard of Lina Bruna-Rasa, do 
> you think?) Cavaradossi suffers least, but he's the least interesting 
> of the three characters, and the smoothing out can't do him much harm. 
> So, not offensive (the rape scene is much less disturbing than the 
> telling of it), but just largely ineffective on its own terms, and it 
> didn't seem to excite the audience to much in the way of either 
> approbation or criticism. Largely, what Mr. Carsen seems to lack, 
> despite the mise-en-scene, is a sense of theatre and theatrical 
> tension....all his good moments (for instance, some of the spot 
> lighting during the lead up to the Vissi d'arte) seem derived from the 
> work of others. 
> As to the singing and vocal impact, I thought the singing generally 
> very good, but largely it was all vitiated to some degree in my 
> opinion by the fact that the real protagonist of any Tosca 
> performance, which is the orchestra, was lead in not much more than a 
> dutiful way by Paolo Carignani, who got this first-rate orchestra to 
> sound very well, but who held down the temperature throughout, and 
> followed - Domingo-like - rather than ever really leading. Most 
> conductors are men, and most men are pigs, so Tosca is usually pretty 
> well served in the opera pit, but you can't low-key a performance, and 
> follow along, no matter how musically, and still make an impact. I 
> understand that the production has gone through a few replacements in 
> this area, so this may be all a matter of him being in the wrong place 
> at the wrong time, but the upshot was not a very effective musical 
> evening in terms of tension and excitement. 
> Of the leads, I thought Jonas Kaufman pretty exemplary, although I 
> doubt he'd make the same impact in the role in a house the size of the 
> MET. He's got a great breath line, the top really does ring (even if 
> it's a dark ring), he phrases well, and he used mezzo-voce (not 
> crooning) effects tellingly. He's got all the top he needs for this 
> role, too, but the voice is very dark - really in many respects 
> baritonal - and you can hear that he has some problems at times really 
> balancing, at an Ab or above, the dark quality with a brigher top 
> voice....he never cracked, but there were moments of very slight 
> instability, I thought. You can see why he's moving into the move 
> 'Germanic' repertoire, and I think that's the right decision. It's a 
> very special instrument, I think. My one criticism is, however, that 
> there's little in the way of communicating pure excitement or danger 
> in the sound.....he's not placid, and he's involved, all right, but 
> for all his physical impact and stage deportment, there's never a 
> sense of the frisson of danger or loss of control that can make a 
> singer have an audience on its feet in pure enthusiasm. 
> I was prepared not to like Thomas Hampson - when I hear someone talk 
> about a 'thinking man's singer', I reach for my keyboard - but I 
> thought that, again for a house this size, he was an interesting 
> choice. Every word was crystalline, which you almost never really hear 
> with Scarpia (although I have to say that, while I am no a speaker of 
> Italian, he didn't really seem to have an Italian sense to the vowels, 
> and I thought no one would not guess that he was thoroughly American), 
> and he was largely effective on stage with a kind of menacing 
> stillness (although surely any Scarpia should react to "Assasino", 
> which I suppose Carsen told Hampson not to). But the part tests him in 
> the middle voice, even in a smaller theatre, and I wondered how often 
> he could really pump out the volume even with a deferential conductor 
> without creating vocal problems for himself. What he lacked, which was 
> anything specific about the menace - he could have been anywhere, 
> working for anyone, in any time period - may well have been more 
> Carsen and his merry band than Hampson. There is, of course, no 
> Italian burr on the voice, but I can live without that for 
> once....what I missed was the tremendous kind of layering of personal 
> elements into each phrase that a great Scarpia needs - Gobbi was ideal 
> in this respect, wasn't he?. 
> I don't believe I have heard Emily McGee before. It's a bit hard to 
> tell what kind of singer she is....the voice is more than comfortable 
> throughout the compass of the role, but the chest is rather weak in 
> sound, and the impact of the voice isn't particularly forward or 
> cutting, and, while she's an American born and trained, the sound to 
> my ears really is Germanic rather than Italianate. 
> The Zurich audience seemed very appreciative, and clearly they love TH 
> and JK, but no one, listening to this evening's performance, would 
> ever have called it a shabby little shocker, and the opera loses 
> something without that. 
> Beckmesserschmitt
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