national Arts Festival Banner

Sunday, November 15, 2009


(Pic: Karita Mattila in “Tosca”)

Reviews of two filmed opera productions - both worth experiencing, give or take a few reservations. (Review by William Charlton-Perkins)

Two filmed opera productions running concurrently are a luxury. Both are worth experiencing, give or take a few reservations.

Rossini’s comic masterpiece, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, NuMetro’s release, was shot before a live audience in Madrid’s Teatro Real in 2005. This elegant and witty production is conducted by Gianluigi Gelmetti and directed by Emilio Sagi. It opts for tones of silver, black and white, as the young Count Almaviva enlists the help of his resourceful henchman, Figaro, in wooing Rosina, the wealthy ward of Doctor Bartolo. As the young lovers succeed in outwitting the wily old man, who plans to marry Rosina himself, the production breaks out into a joyous riot of colour.

The male members of the cast are uniformly superb, notably the opera’s dapper protagonists, Juan Diego Florez (Almaviva), and his title-role colleague, Pietro Spagnoli. Both toss off their vocally demanding music with relish and ease. So, too, do Bruno Practicò as Bartolo, the comic of the piece, and veteran basso Ruggero Raimondi, as Rosina’s scurrilously oily music master, Don Basilio.

Soubrette soprano Maria Bayo serves up a pert Rosina, her bravura role undermined by somewhat flaccid coloratura. Still, if her singing lacks brilliance, she looks pretty and delivers a degree of charm, helped along by the insertion of an extra aria which Rossini composed for an 1819 revival of his opera.

A post-production gripe, the subtitles during the opera’s first act appear onscreen almost a minute after the characters have sung their lines. Mercifully this is rectified after interval, and Rossini’s light-hearted work is unimpeded by any further technical hitches.

Ster Kinekor’s rival fare at Cinema Nouveau is Swiss director Luc Bondy’s new production of Puccini’s Tosca. This opened the Metropolitan Opera’s current season some weeks back. I found online reports of the Met audience’s booing in response to Bondy’s occasionally perverse but committed take on the piece hard to fathom. The sets are stark, the lighting pretty gloomy, but these elements are at one with Puccini’s 1900 stage shocker, based on Sardou’s play of political intrigue, sexual jealousy, torture, lust and betrayal that unfolds against the backdrop of Napoleonic-occupied Rome.

Karita Mattila in the title role is dramatically compelling most of the time, though occasionally she is physically gawky, and vocally stretched in the opera’s big moments. This becomes glaringly apparent in Act 3, when the score’s cruelly exposed climactic high C reveals a shortfall in her lyric soprano upper range, hardly disguised by her tenor partner Marcello Alvarez’s clarion top register. Warning bells suggest Mattila is on dangerous ground in this killer role of a diva playing a diva.

Alvarez’s passionate portrayal of painter-activist Cavaradossi is masterly, as is Georgian baritone George Gagnidze’s fleshy, wet-lipped police chief Scarpia, Tosca’s salacious, sadistic tormentor. Conductor Joseph Colarneri delivers a thrilling account of Puccini’s taxing score. A good start to the Met’s 3rd Live in HD Season.