Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Deutsche Oper Berlin: Tosca

8 November 2016 at the Deutsche Oper Berlin

It’s not often these days you get a round of applause greet a singer appearing on the stage, the sort of thing that you can hear on many a live Callas or Tebaldi recording. Yet that’s what happened when Anja Harteros swept in here. It was just a smattering, though, and, as far as one can gauge the tenor of these things, sounded a little sarcastic to me.

Someone also shouted something, which I couldn’t make out. I’d been let down the last time I was due to here Harteros in Berlin too, as the Marschallin in the Deutsche Oper’s Straussfest earlier in the year, and had been nervously checking the website up to a couple of hours before the performance started.

But there she was, and the quality of her performance only underlined why there is a frustration—opera-goers in London have long given up of ever seeing her there again—that she tends to cancel, for whatever reason. 

Her performances in other roles might not suggest that she’s temperamentally a natural Tosca, but to think that is to underestimate the quality of her artistry. She’s no scenery-chewer and everything’s always in control, and arguably this was an ‘old-fashioned’ performance was a good fit for the grandeur of what must one of the Deutsche Oper’s oldest productions, dating from 1969.

But that didn’t stop her presenting what was probably the most complete performance of the role I’ve seen, or heard. Her guttural command to Scarpia to die at the end of Act 2 was chilling, while her transition from conspiratorial whisper to shock at Cavaradossi’s not-so-fake execution—a moment that so often just doesn’t quite work—was perfectly managed. The voice was in great condition, too, powerful and free at the top.

It’s rare to hear the role sung with such style and finesse: key passages such as the conclusion of a soaring, long-breathed ‘Vissi d’arte’, or the character’s final lines in Act 1—‘Dio mio perdona. Egli vede ch’io piango!’—were exquisitely turned. But such things are not just niceties for canary-fanciers: Harteros makes such musical quality translate into nobility and grandeur of character, making one not only believe in the character but also care about her. I felt lucky to be there, and to have added another Harteros role to my mental cabinet of cherished operatic memories.

It obviously wasn’t just about her, though, and she had an impressive Cavaradossi in the Tenerife-born Jorge de León, a handsome chap with a big, bright voice that would fill any house, and who sings with some style. It’s not the most seductive sound, perhaps, with a narrow bore and a hint of nasality, but it’s often a thrilling one, and he sails through the role with real confidence. Lucio Gallo jumped in late in the day for the one cancellation we did have—Falk Struckmann pulling out as Scarpia. Ivan Repušić conducted a generous, bold account of the score. The orchestra played their hearts out and I don’t think I’ve seen a more lively and mischievous children’s choir than here with the Deutsche Oper’s kids.

A few words more about Boleslaw Barlog’s production, with designs by Filippo Sanujust, and which was spruced up by Götz Friederich in its 1987 Wiederaufnahme. It hardly looks any older than Jonathan Kent’s 2006 Royal Opera staging, to pick just one more recent ‘traditional’ staging, and still does service very well. My only gripe is the caricatured Spoletto—rather too much Beckmesser and evil Mr Bean in there—and the rest of Scarpia’s entourage, who look as if they might have escaped from a production of Oliver!. Nevermind, though: this was a very good night at the Deutsche Oper.

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