For decades, “historically-informed performance practice” has given audiences the chance to hear music as the composer may have heard it. But in terms of opera, why not what the composer saw? Alessandro Talevi’s 2015 production of Tosca for the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma boasts sets and costumes painstakingly recreated from Adolf Hohenstein’s designs for the 1900 première. The libretto is littered with detailed stage instructions. If period instrument performers can transcend dry-as-dust scholarship to make a performance leap off the page, can a “period production” still make Tosca leap off the stage?
Carlo Savi’s recreation of the sets are eye-poppingly gorgeous, arguably the stars of the show. There is an amazing quality to the painted flats, beautifully detailed. In Sant’Andrea della Valle, you’ll search in vain for an Attavanti Chapel (a piece of fiction), but otherwise everything here is a perfect visual replica, right down to the evocative amber light that floods the church in the mornings. And an audible sigh of appreciation rippled as the curtains rose to reveal Act 2’s blue-vaulted Palazzo Farnese. Anna Biagiotti’s costumes are faithful, Tosca’s gowns less diva-like than we’re used to, which only serves to make her more of a real person.
Talevi’s production is part of the theatre’s “La memoria” project, a nod to the Teatro Costanzi’s history, not to preserve the past in aspic, but to test how tastes have changed with the passing of time. He occasionally adds his own touch – a couple of children are seen playing in the church as the curtain rises on Act 1 – but largely follows the script as laid down in Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa’s libretto. Therefore, we see Tosca – post-stabbing – wet a napkin to wash her hands before lighting candles to place beside Scarpia’s corpse; and in the opera’s closing moments, we see her improbably push Spoletta to the ground to allow time to reach the ledge and fling herself – elegantly – over the ramparts.
For this revival, a decent, if not stellar, cast was assembled, some of whom have sung in the production before. Svetlana Kasyan, jumping in to replace Virginia Tola at pretty short notice, sang a fiery Tosca that belied her diminutive stature. Her soprano is on the light side for a spinto role but there was a surprising rasp in her chest register for moments like her “Presago sospetto!” as Tosca spots the Attavanti crest on the fan. “Vissi d’arte” took time to settle, with some notes approached from a fraction below, but the money notes were admirably reached, even if there was a bit of a tug-of-war going on with the conductor, who wanted to wallow more than his soprano did. Kasyan was vividly impassioned in Act 3, partnering Stefano La Colla’s splendid Cavaradossi.
The Italian tenor’s bright, forwardly-placed sound and smiling tone led to a wonderful “Recondita armonia”. La Colla is fond of his decibels but he didn’t hog the limelight with his cries of “Vittoria” in Act 2 and “E lucevan le stelle” was tasteful, never overplaying the histrionics. Argentine baritone Fabián Veloz was a properly aristocratic Scarpia, initially avuncular until he turns nasty in Act 2, with a nice demonic laugh as he lets slip that Tosca has spilled the beans as to Angelotti’s whereabouts. There was some tasteful phrasing during the Te Deum, but Veloz’s voice is on the smaller scale and slightly cloudy. A hammy Spoletta apart, the supporting cast was good, particularly Domenico Colaianni’s grumbly Sacristan, and the Rome chorus raised the church rafters.