Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin: “Tosca”

Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin – Season 2014/2015
Melodramma in three acts
Libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica
Music by Giacomo Puccini
Floria Tosca ANJA KAMPE
Mario Cavaradossi ZORAN TODOROVICH
Cesare Angelotti TOBIAS SCHABEL
Il Sagrestano JAN MARTINÍK
Staatskapelle Berlin
Staatsopernchor, Kinderchor der Staatsoper
Conductor Domingo Hindoyan
Chorus Martin Wright
Production Alvis Hermanis
Stage and costumes Kristine Jurjane
Light Gleb Filshtinsky
Berlin, Staatsoper im Schillertheater, 25th October 2014

Tosca by Giacomo Puccini always sells itself. So why does an opera house need to replace a nearly fourty year old successful production of the opera by a new one that appears as much of routine in the seventh performance since the opening night as the old one in its 200th? Is it because Berlin does not spend enough money on its three independent opera houses or the city does not care enough about an upcoming opera producer who has so far excelled in acting and producing theatre plays and discovered opera only recently? Alvis Hermanis’ production of Trovatore in Salzburg this summer though cast with the most famous singers of our time was based on the nice but hardly new idea of setting the plot in a museum but suffered from a missing Personenregie. The same applies to his Tosca. It is probably hard to get rid of stereotypes especially when it comes to an opera that is so much fixed to historic events and places and I do not fancy Puccini’s shocker being set in a spacecraft or the sewage system of a big city, either. The stage design by Kristine Jurjane is dominated by a big wall in the foreground framed by two Corinthian columns leaving little space on the shortened stage. The upper part of the wall serves as a screen for a kind of cartoon story of the opera illustrating the stage action going on almost like a concert in Jurjane’s costumes of the time around 1900 when Puccini composed the opera. Along with the German surtitles it works as a superfluous extra explanation of what Alvis Hermanis failed to stage. Apart from a few new ideas the singers are left alone with their parts. They act in traditional gestures so that the production can be played till doomsday again supported by the simple stage design and doing without any extras (the sitting Cavaradossi is not shot dead by the firing squad but the warder), a travel version so to speak but there you go: every cloud has a silver lining. When Tosca appears in the 1st act she is not the usual jealous woman but almost like a shy girl who turns into someone who realises all too quickly in the 2nd what it is all about. Vissi d’arte is not a prayer here but already part of seducing Scarpia, the fruit knife long selected for the murder which takes place right after the sexual intercourse at the table. Another new aspect is Tosca’s abstract death. She does not jump down from the Castello San’Angelo but opens her arms like an angel in a rectangular spotlight. The boring the production the more pleasant is the musical performance. I agree Tosca will be a success if you have three full-blooded singers. Both Anja Kampe in the title role and Michael Volle as Scarpia excel in German rather than Italian opera but they are absolutely convincing. The soprano has a warm and voluptuous voice, sings with a wonderful legato, and not even the most dramatic outbursts tend to be shrill. She can also do without any verismo frills. A surprise and revelation! Volle may not be born as a villain but his powerful rather than elegant baritone leaves no doubt about Scarpia’s intentions right from the beginning. He turns the Te Deum into the striking climax of the 1st act both vocally and through his spread arms over the prayer chair at the end. He finds more subtle tones in the monologue at the start of act 2 and sings it as an arrogant self-presentation towards Sciarrone (Maximilian Krummen) after all. Zoran Todorovich stood in at short notice for Fabio Sartori as Cavaradossi. His virile tenor started Recondita armonia in a lyrical way but soon showed radiant power in an effectful Tosca, sei tu! He was a real match for Kampe’s Tosca from the love duet of the 1st act to the fatal end never losing the stamina of his impressive Vittoria in the 2nd act. Angelotti was sung by the young Tobias Schabel. His slim appearance goes very well with the character of the fled state prisoner but vocally he is drowned by the relentlessly loud orchestra in the 1st act. It is the same with Jan Martiník whose whistling Sagrestano turns out to be harmless rather than a cringing spy. Stephen Chambers lends his light tenor to the cartoon-like Spoletta with glasses and a stuck-up moustache. Grigory Shkarupa’s carceriere is having a breakfast sandwich with a glass of wine looking after the prisoner Cavaradossi on the side. It is hard for the young bass to leave any vocal impression. According to Puccini’s original intention the pastore is sung by the boy soprano Jakob Buschermöhle, soloist of the Kinderchor der Staatsoper. While Daniel Barenboim conducted the opening night on 3rd October as his first Puccini opera, he left the job to his disciple Domingo Hindoyan on 25th October. Under his baton the Staatskapelle Berlin was mostly too loud and overcame the initially vague play of the strings very soon. The fact that the three major singers were not drowned by the orchestra was due to their powerful voices rather than Hindoyan’s careful conducting. The Staatsopernchor supported by the Kinderchor der Staatsoper (chorus master Martin Wright) contributed an impressive part to the Te Deum. As to Hermanis’ non-production of Tosca I can only repeat the words of Ruth Berghaus whose production of Il barbiere di Siviglia has been running at the Staatsoper for nearly 50 years now: “it still needs to be staged”. Photos by Hermann and Clärchen Baus