TOSCA, alla Scala (scritto per Opera-l)


I attended the past Thursday Tosca, a new La Scala production of the Puccini’s opera. It was the third performance. Semyon Bychkov was the conductor, and Luca Ronconi the stage director. The main characters were sung  by Galina Gorchakova (Tosca), Neil Shicoff (Mario) and Ruggero Raimondi (Scarpia). The cast was the same of the first performance. It is not my aim to do a complete review. All of us know Tosca very well, and, I think, all of us love Tosca, perhaps the most popular of the Puccini’s operas.

I want only point out some aspects that I found very interesting.

First. The conducting  by Bychkov. The orchestral sound was rendered crisper and fresher and brighter by the emphasis that he gave to the dissonances, that in the Puccini’s score are well present. This, in my opinion, is a new, interesting and a modern way to conduct Puccini’s orchestra. This way is, IMHO, more in accordance with the modern liking, and better expresses the complexity of the drama. So it is as if the orchestra was a further main character of the events in the play. In other words, I  had a feeling that Bychkov have cleared the score by a patina of dust, and recovered its modernity. A clever Italian musicologist, Fedele D’Amico, said that sooner or later one must have the courage to catalog Tosca in the list that includes Salome, Elektra and Wozzeck.

Some other aspects (criticised by some reviewers) of the Bychkov’s way of conducting was the sound dynamics, especially in the use of the brasses; and the time too slow, that has put the singers in some trouble. The criticisms may be right, but the succession of lyric and acting times was well displayed. I think that the overall way of conducting by Bychkov is a very interesting one, and I enjoyed it very much.

Second. The stage direction. The scenes agree very well with the modernity of the conduction. Ronconi in the first act reproduced the church of Sant’Ignazio (not of Sant’Andrea della Valle). He chose this church because its baroque style. But the architectural components were in some way desegregated; the columns  and the walls sloping so to give a distorted perspective, as if the audience were on the ground of the church and looked at the frescos of the ceiling.

The main components of the church were present in the scenes of the second and the third acts too. Some changes, nevertheless, pointed out Palazzo Farnese and Castel Sant’Angelo. In Palazzo Farnese a coffered ceiling, and some furniture as a laid table, armchairs and some pictures of Carracci. In Castel Sant’Angelo the ceiling was the sky of Rome at dawn, and we could see the terraces, a big statue of the archangel and a railing portraying the prison. Ronconi says that what are set are not exactly the places and the times, but most of all the *function* of the places and the times. The three scenes are the places of the papal power. The church: a place of cult; Palazzo Farnese: a place of police repression; Castel Sant’Angelo: a place of death. All this portrays the anticlerical atmosphere of the beginning of the century in Italy, and particularly in Rome.

The most interesting thing, in my opinion,  is the modernity of the perspective that is well in agreement with the modernity of the orchestral sound. In both the cases they respect the substance of the opera, but adapt the form to the modern liking, getting a performance more vivacious.

Third. The cast. I found the cast not so interesting as the conducting and the stage direction. The acting and the singing of Gorchakova and of Shicoff were more traditional, but duller as well, in contrast with the liveliness of the setting and of the orchestral sound. Neil Shicoff has a beautiful voice, but as the majority of the tenors of the present time, he flattens (?) the high notes. Galina Gorchakova has a beautiful voice as well, but she jumps from middle tones to high notes a little too rudely, as if she was not able to control perfectly the power. Nevertheless both of them were warmly applauded by the audience. Raimondi sang and acted at his high standard.

The main difficulty in Italian pronunciation is in the double consonants. Often foreign singers do not let hear the double consonants, or let hear the double consonants where they are not. This was the case in Gorchakova and in Shicoff. Obviously, this is somewhat annoying to an Italian audience.

A remark. I heard the broadcast of the first performance, and heard the shameful behaviour of a part of the audience. At the end of the performance they booed loudly as the performance were a flop, while the majority of the audience applauded with enthusiasm. At the performance which I attended nobody booed. I do not know why this happened. But as it happen almost at every first performance of La Scala, but not at the next ones, I think that it is the cause of the behaviour of an uncivil minority, not of the quality of the performances.

Greetings to all listers, and my apologises if my pronunciation is hard to understand.

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