This 2000 La Scala recording of Puccini’s Tosca is straightforward and rather good. It’s a revival of Luca Ronconi’s 1996 production which I’m somewhat astonished to read was regarded as controversial. Sure, the sets are sort of fractured and feature some weird angles but everything else seems to be “by the book” down to the smallest details like the candlesticks and cross. Regietheatre this isn’t. In this performance the acting is OK, if tending to the “stand and wave your arms about” default Italian mode. The stand out exception is Leo Nucci’s Scarpia. He doesn’t have the physical presence to be brutal in the way that, say, Bryn Terfel can be but he manages to project a very nasty securocrat indeed. This is a Scarpia who would be good at making Powerpoint presentations to his bosses detailing how many women and children his unmanned drones had killed today.
The singing from the principals is excellent. Nucci, unsurprisingly, sings as well as he acts and the late Salvatore Licitra is a classic Cavaradossi; very Italian and very loud but capable of sounding quite beautiful in the right places. Now I know what the fuss was about when he died. I wasn’t much expecting to like Maria Guleghina, having been traumatised by the rather awful Met Turandot, but I was pleasantly surprised. Not as passionate as Maria Callas or as glamorous as Angela Gheorghiu, nonetheless she is a very fine Tosca. She manages to hit the right emotional balance in Act 2 making the final denouement almost believable which is no mean feat. The supporting characters have no obvious weak links except maybe the Spoletta who is a bit of a clown. I imagine the La Scala orchestra could play this score in their sleep and it’s no surprise that Muti gets a red blooded performance out of them.
The package for DVD is OK. The video-direction by Pierre Cavasillas is straightforward and undistracting supported by a decent 16:9 picture. The DTS 5.1 soundtrack is well balanced and has real impact. It does close up a bit in the noisiest passages but short Blu-ray with PCM 5.0 it’s about as good as it gets. (There is also Dolby 5.1 and PCM stereo). There are French, English, Italian, German and Spanish subtitles, no extras and minimal documentation.