Teatro Real de Madrid 2020-21 Review: Tosca
The Madrid Season Comes to a Close with a Disappointing Cast Led by Anna NetrebkoBy Mauricio Villa
This review is from the last performance of Tosca the 24th July 2021
The Teatro Real de Madrid closed the season with one of the most anticipated performances of “Tosca.” It was set to be a major event with Anna Netrebko returning to the Madrid stage in an opera for the first time since 2001, singing alongside Yusif Eyvazov and Luca Salsi. The trio was scheduled for two performances in a production that was already a highlight of the season with historical encores and superstar casts.
So with Netrebko bringing her signature Tosca to the stage, there were was a lot to look forward to. However, despite all the anticipation, the final performance of the season was a big disappointment.
Anna Netrebko has a beautiful, dark, warm, velvety timbre and sings with expansive legato lines. However, the low register can be dry and lack resonance. This was evident in the passage “Chi é, quella donna bionda lassú?” which shows Tosca’s jealousy. Instead of producing a big menacing sound, Netrebko’s voice sounded distant and muffled.
During the first act, Netrebko showcased a jealous and strong Tosca that was a good setup for the second act. However, Netrebko’s Tosca seemed distant from Cavaradossi which made the opening duet “Quale occhio al mondo” hard to believe. But for all the setup, the thrilling second act turned into a letdown. Netrebko’s voice sounded strained and there was a wobble in several top notes. Furthermore, her voice also did not project well, making it hard to hear several high B flats and Cs, especially on the line “Ah piú non posso, Ah ché orror.” I have said many times that conductor Nicola Luisotti sometimes exaggerates his fortes and it is to the detriment of the singer. This could have definitely been a disadvantage for Netrebko to be at a disadvantage when it came to projecting into the auditorium, but regardless, the lack of balance and coordination between singer and the maestro made the evening difficult.
During her aria “Vissi d’arte,” the soprano sang correctly from a technical standpoint, with expansive long lines, a secure B flat, and even exquisite pianissimi. She gave a lesson of pure singing and was rewarded with a huge ovation by audience members asking for an encore. Netrebko acknowledged the audience by bowing but decided to continue the drama without the coveted “bis.” Yet, I must admit that despite the beauty of the lush singing, there was a certain dramatic detachment. She sang the aria to the audience, walking from side to side with no dramatic target, while Scarpia disappeared into the background.
One of the biggest challenges for the soprano is the high C in “Io quella lama” because it is sung “a capella” and the soprano is completely exposed. Netrebko’s high note was strident, pushed and the wobble was quite noticeable. She barely held the note and quickly resolved the line down with “gli piantai nel cuor.” By the end of the night, her voice showed great fatigue, and her final B flat on “O Scarpia Avanti a Dio” sounded forced and insecure.
But the biggest issue of the evening was Netrebko’s disconnect from the production by Pablo Azorin. Unlike, the previous casts, the blocking was completely modified and the Act two confrontation seemed underrehearsed, a bit awkward, and uncoordinated. There was very little interaction between Netrebko and Salsi and they looked lost most of the time.
There was another elephant in the room : a naked woman appears on the stage during important moments throughout the opera. She gives a knife to Tosca in Act two; is present when Cavaradossi is shot; and appears when Tosca jumps to her death. The woman is key to Azorin’s production. However, Netrebko did not interact with the woman at all, thus voiding her significance and making her appearances superfluous.
The Hero & The Villain
Yusif Eyvazov sang the role of Cavaradossi. While he showcased brilliant high notes, the rest of the performance was underwhelming. His timbre is uneven and he has a wide vibrato in the middle and lower part of his voice. As a result, there are too many different colors as he goes into the passagio towards the high register.
The biggest issue with his interpretation were the many fragmented phrases. In “Recondita Armonia” he sang a vibrant final B flat but seemed to have difficulty producing a secure resonance in the passagio which turned the legato line, “Recondita armonia, di bellezze diverse,” into fragmented notes and uneven sound. During the love duet with Tosca, Eyvazov sang strong B flats but sounded insecure and trembled.
The highlight of his performance was his second “Vittoria” in Act two. The first “Vittoria,” which demands phrasing on an F sharp, showed how Yusif covered the sound in the middle of his passagio, producing a guttural trembling voice. The second one, which is sung on a B flat was brilliant and rang throughout the auditorium. But in “L’alba vindice apar” and the subsequent “carnefice,” his voice was completely overpowered by the orchestra.
Eyvazov’s interpretation of the famous aria, “E lucevan le stelle” had some nice diminuendos but the softer he sang, the more his wide vibrato became noticeable, giving an uneven timbre and obscuring the long legato lines of this aria.
Luca Salsi has a beautiful sound, a mesmerizing ability to color lines with an extensive dynamic range, and his experience with the role has allowed him total control of Scarpia’s music. However, despite that he seemed to be singing a routine performance. His interpretation lacked drama as he resorted to using stock gestures. He frowned and lifted his eyebrows and his body was stiff. This all led to an uninspired Act two which seemed way too improvised.
In the end, the final performance of Teatro Real’s 2020-21 season was greeted with enthusiastic applause but failed to impress.