Red Hot Tosca at the Munich Opera Festival
Mario! Mario! Mario! The three huge banners hanging between the Grecian columns said it all. Puccini's great opera may be called Tosca, but it is as much about Cavaradossi as it's about the Roman prima donna. A great tenor demands equal billing. The Munich Opera certainly has a great Cavaradossi in its native son tenor Jonas Kaufmann. Without a doubt, Kaufmann is the hottest spinto tenor in front of the public today. His ability to excel in German, Italian and French repertoires is remarkable. In this production of Tosca, Kaufmann and the Finnish diva Karita Mattila (Tosca), aided and abetted by Finnish baritone Juha Uusitalo at his sadistic best as Scarpia, generated so much heat that these three figuratively burned up the stage last night. The performance began a little slowly but built to a shattering climax. Kaufmann was in great voice; singing his two arias splendidly, with impeccable Italianate tone and nuanced acting. His full throttled Act 2 cries of "Vittoria, vittoria" was the most exciting I've ever heard. However he did make a small mental error in "Recondita armonia", entering too soon in the second phrase. Other than a few minor blemishes, it was a performance to remember. Mattila's Tosca was human, emotional, extroverted, genuine, and earthy. The voice with its cool timbre might not be ideal in Italian opera, but she makes it work by throwing herself totally into the role. Her chest register has grown with maturity, and she used it last night with abandon. Occasionally it sounded a bit rough and the break between chest and head voices was noticeable, but it suited the verismo style. Her five high Cs were searingly produced, and her "Vissi d'arte" was heart-felt. Uusitalo's Scarpia is rather unsubtle, and there isn't much suave and seductive quality to his voice or his acting - this Scarpia is a psychopath through and through. In Act 2, the performance caught fire and the confrontation scene between the principals were truly exciting.