Opernhaus Zürich 2017-18 Review – Tosca: Anja Harteros’ Star Power the Driving Force In Carsen’s Production

By Santosh Venkataraman

Anja Harteros. Anja Harteros. Anja Harteros.

Yes, reading that isn’t very interesting. Listening to her and experiencing her is quite a different story. The German soprano was nothing short of sensational on a starry Saturday opening night of a revival of the Robert Carsen production of “Tosca” at the Zurich Opera.

It was recently reported that Harteros has stopped singing in the United States for the time being to spend time with her ailing husband and a look at her schedule reveals that Zürich and Paris are the destinations on her calendar furthest from her home in Cologne.

What is also clear is that it is 100 percent worth it to make the journey to see her in person. It’s also a pity that audiences outside of that range won’t get a chance to hear her because anyone gaining an introduction to opera through her voice would become a fan of the genre. The experience is that ethereal and that affecting. Harteros could do wonders for drawing more and more fans to the art and right now represents a well-kept secret to the wider world.

Defining Diva

Her clear and lyrical tone was apparent to anyone and never more so than in her “Vissi d’arte” in Act 2. It was intense, emotive and beautiful to the point that this audience member was hoping for a bis. The ovation by the captivated crowd showed little signs of abating. And when it died down and Scarpia provided his sarcastic claps as the scene required, that just didn’t seem to fit. Because surely even someone as truly evil as him would have recognized the greatness that just transpired on stage.

Harteros brought tremendous detail to this Tosca. Her stabbing of Scarpia was the precise dramatic moment it should be and even the way she fell in mocking how Cavaradossi should simulate his death was a piece of acting that drew laughter. Harteros defined Floria Tosca on this night in a performance for the ages.

Carsen Production Reigns Again

This production debuted in Belgium at the Vlaamse Opera back in 1990, and it highlights the title character with a “theater within a theater” concept. The first act is seen from the back of the theater, the second act is presumably backstage with a big “no smoking” sign in Italian and the latter part of the finale is also in the theater after a brief respite in Scarpia’s lair to torture Cavaradossi.

The idea works well in showcasing the perspective of the diva. There are many occasions in which the singers’ faces are dimly lit, especially in Act one. While that may be annoying to not see them, in the case of Tosca it accentuates how closed off her world is as a performer in this 1950s setting. Perhaps what this production does best is allow the singers to flourish.

Jagde House Debut a Success

The American tenor Brian Jagde has performed Cavaradossi all over the world; so ingrained is this character in him that he has named his dog Cav. Jagde had never sung in Zürich before Saturday; he picked an excellent night to finally cross that accomplishment off his list.

If Jagde doesn’t necessarily look the part as a swashbuckling Cavaradossi, he makes up for it by giving it his all. He is defiant throughout while also displaying Cavaradossi artist’s sensibility.

While Jagde was terrific throughout, his “E lucevan le stelle” in Act three again brought the crowd to its feet with a feeling of pure despair for the fate of Cavaradossi. It was never going to be an easy task for a tenor to work alongside a powerhouse like Harteros, but Jagde acquitted himself admirably.

Vratogna Delivers a One-Dimensional evil Scarpia

The Italian baritone Marco Vratogna has sang his Scarpia around the world. His portrayal is one of a man with stilted qualities, who is unsure of himself and at war with himself and society. Vratogna’s choice to remain static throughout made Scarpia’s evil very one-dimensional.

Carignani likes his Puccini subtler 

Conductor Paolo Carignani opts to reign in the emotionally overwhelming music with a steady pace while picking out moments to present it in a more contrived state. This choice fit well with this production, allowing the condition of Harteros’ Tosca to be overwrought at times while Jagde’s Cavaradossi and Vratogna’s Scarpia played it straight. Bass Pavel Daniuk was serviceable as the Sacristan as was baritone Valeriy Murga in his Angelotti.

The chances to witness Harteros are few and far between and she is the vehicle that drives this “Tosca.” The perfect setting of the intimate Opernhaus Zürich and the otherworldly presence of Harteros made this an unforgettable memory for those fortunate to attend.



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