The recently released recording of Puccini’s Tosca from the Wiener Staatsoper was recorded in 2019 but, as best I can tell, the production, by Margarethe Wallmann, dates back to 1957 and it feels that old. It’s entirely literal and, beyond basic blocking, the singers appear to have been left to their own devices as far as acting goes. It also clearly was not designed with video in mind. Cavaradossi’s execution is quite remarkably unsanguine.
So it’s really all about the performances and the standout is Piotr Beczala as Cavaradossi. It’s a very fine performance in the singing department and E lucevan le stelle actually gets encored. He’s a very decent actor too. Carlos Álvarez is a straightforwardly unpleasant and entirely convincing Scarpia. Which leaves Karine Babajanyan’s Tosca. Her singing is very good indeed. Her Vissi d’arte is lovely but her acting would have raised no eyebrows in 1957. It’s an overblown series of stock gestures that I would find annoying in an opera house and which I find very difficult to watch on video which really rather spoils things. Musically everything else is well executed with the house orchestra and chorus on fine form and typically robust conducting from Marco Armiliato.
Ella Galliena’s work with the cameras is unflashy and backed up by excellent sound (24 bit stereo and DTS-HD-MA) and video on Blu-ray. The beginning of the third act is very dark so the additional resolution of Blu-ray is handy. There are no extras and while the booklet has a decent synopsis and track listing the essay isn’t very informative. Subtitle options are Italian, English, German, French, Korean and Japanese.
I think this is one for Beczala fans. He is excellent, otherwise it’s all a bit unremarkable and there are almost equally traditional Toscas with starrier casts available. For instance, for those who want a traditional take there’s the ROH recording with Gheorghiu, Kaufmann, Terfel and Pappano. If one fancies something a bit “thinkier” there’s Phillip Himmelmann’s production for the 2017 Baden-Baden Easter Festival which has a fine Tosca in Kristine Opolais and uniquely subtle conducting from Simon Rattle with the Berlin Philharmonic.