The 2018 Salzburg Easter Festival production of Puccini’s Tosca was directed by Michael Sturminger. The only Sturminger works I’ve seen before are his rather odd Mozart collaborations with John Malkovich; The Giacomo Variations and The Infernal Comedy so I really wasn’t sure what to expect. The production riffs off film noir and is updated to more or less the present. It opens with a shoot out between Angelotti and the police but that lasts only a few seconds and the first act and the first half of the second act are fairly conventional, bar Scarpia on an exercise bike as Act 2 opens. That said, it’s big and monochromatic and it does have a noir feel. It starts to get a bit more conceptual around the Scarpia/Tosca confrontation. It’s an interesting take on Scarpia; perhaps more bureaucrat than psychopath. The relationship between the two is well drawn and Anja Harteros does a really convincing job of her build up to killing Scarpia including a first class Vissi d’arte sung from some unusual positions. There’s a hint of what’s to come at the very end of the act when an “I’m not dead yet” Scarpia is seen crawling towards his phone.
Act 3 opens in what appears to be a dormitory in a boy’s boarding school run by the Sacristan. Scarpia’s henchmen select some boys and instruct them in how to use a hand gun. They turn up as the firing party with Scarpia’s folks looking on laughing. As the news of Tosca’s “murder” of Scarpia arrives so does a very bloody Scarpia. He and Tosca confront each other (at some distance). Tosca produces a gun and shoots Scarpia. He shoots back and kills her. The standard of marksmanship is remarkably high. I think it’s all pretty effective but it isn’t nearly as chilling as Philip Himmelman’s production at Baden-Baden.
Performances are good. Anja Harteros is the star. She sings with a lovely combination of drama and beauty of voice and she’s a killer actor. Ludovic Tézier is vocally absolutely solid as Scarpia. Whether uou like this rather understated take on Scarpia is a matter of taste. There’s nothing at all wrong with Aleksandrs Anonenko’s Cavaradossi complete with some proper Puccini tenoring. The minor parts are all just fine. I’m not so sure about Christian Thielemann’s conducting either. I found it pretty bland which is not something I associate with him. He certainly isn’t as fed in tooth and claw as Pappano or as insightful as Rattle. The Staatskapelle Dresden, Bachchor Salzburg and the Salzburger Festspiele und Theater Kinderchor are all more than adequate.
So this one was performed in the Grosses Festspielhaus with its enormous, hard to film stage. It’s also seriously dark in places. In the circumstances I think video director Tiziano Mancini chooses his shots judiciously. There are a lot of closeups; after all this is, essentially, an intimate opera, but ther are enough setting shots to get a feel for the stage as a whole and to give me nagging doubts about whether it’s possible to do full justice to this production on video. On Blu-ray, the video quality is good enough to cope with the difficulties. I can’t see this working well on standard DVD. The surround sound (DTS-HD MA) is good though the voices are maybe balanced a little far back. I found myself setting the volume higher than usual. There’s also LPCM stereo. There are no extras on the disk bar a handful of trailers. The booklet has production notes, a synopsis and a track listing. Subtitle options are English, Italian, French, Spanish, German, Japanese and Korean.
It’s an interesting Tosca though I found the Baden-Baden production much more interesting and that one has the advantage of brilliant conducting from Simon Rattle. For a more traditional take there’s the ROH recording with Gheorghiu, Kaufmann, Terfel and Pappano. Curiously, the older Gheorghiu film version has also been rereleased on both Blu-ray and 4K. There are also lots of older recordings.