German tenor Jonas Kaufmann stars as Mario Cavaradossi alongside soprano Sondra Radvanovsky and baritone Carlos Alvarez in an open-air concert version of Puccini’s operatic thriller, conducted by Nicola Luisotti.
For the singers fresh from a run of performances at the Teatro Real in Madrid, this was a chance for the music to take centre stage.
Álvarez explains: “It’s a concert version and the audience is able to concentrate more on the music than they usually do.”
Concert or semistaged versions of operas usually place the orchestra on stage, rather than in the pit, leading to a different experience for the audience – and the singers.
Radvanovsky, who plays Tosca, says: “I find it more intimate and you find other colours when you do a concert.” For Kaufmann, Puccini’s celebrated opera calls to mind ‘film music’ in its clarity and storytelling: “The music is so clear, describing and creating these images,” he says.
The German tenor’s Cavaradossi is considered one of his signature roles. He says: “I think it is one of the most perfect operas ever written, there’s probably a handful of operas where you don’t want to miss a note and definitely Tosca is one of them.”
But he is wary of getting weary of the role. “I try to keep my absolute favourite parts fresh by not doing them too often and doing lots of different stuff in between. It should never be something routine where I just say ‘oh I don’t have to prepare for this, I know it inside out’ because everyone will notice.”
Radvanovsky also loves the opera – she says it is highly relatable, despite its brutality and violence. “It is about love, fighting, jealousy, fighting for what you believe in, and being true to yourself, both Cavaradossi and Tosca are true to themselves and that’s why they die in the end – sorry to give it away!”
The American-Canadian soprano’s Tosca is softer than often portrayed, she is less of a prima donna.
“The character in this was definitely not as much of a diva as much as just a young singer, you know she loves what she does, she’s in love and I think it is more of a simple, gentle Tosca,” she says.
Kaufmann agrees with her characterisation: “Cavaradossi needs to really, really love this Tosca so much that no matter what, he just melts under her eyes and if the Tosca is this bitchy character, it is not credible.”
‘Think of Scarpia as a man in love’
Spanish baritone Carlos Alvarez wanted to add another dimension to his portrayal of the sadistic police chief Scarpia. He says director Paco Azorín, who staged the Madrid production, gave him some advice. “Think about Scarpia as a man in love, desperate man in love and then you forget the archetype of somebody who is powerful and mean, and you can be mean but in a very gentle way,” he says.
The Madrid performances saw a historic double encore from both Kaufmann and Radvanovsky, for their characters’ arias – Cavaradossi’s ‘E lucevan le stelle’ and Tosca’s ‘Vissi d’arte’. The encores were repeated at the festival’s concert version after the audience gave both singers a standing ovation.
Radvanovsky believes purity is key to Tosca’s iconic aria. She says: “It is a simple prayer, I always say in Vissi d’arte the theme of that aria is the orchestra, I ride above it, so I am kind of an ornamentation commenting on the theme the orchestra sings so in a way it is me, adding to the prayer.
“Tosca is a simple woman and at that moment when we come to Vissi d’arte she feels like she has nothing else she can do except pray to god and say ‘dear god, get me out of this situation, why did this happen to me, why did it happen to me now, I’ve been a good person my whole life and this is how you pay me back.’ So the more simply ‘Vissi d’arte’ is sung in my opinion the more effective it is, because it’s like a humble prayer.”