'Tosca' at the Bregenz Festival,
reviewed by TESS CREBBIN
The production everyone in Germany is talking about this summer is Puccini's Tosca, on the lake-stage of the Bregenz Festival. More specifically, everyone is talking about the spectacular stage setting, and Belgrade-born tenor Zoran Todovorich's Cavaradossi, so much so that the production has become the absolute 'must-see' tip for this year's enormous choice of summer festivals in Germany. First off, it must be stated that the massive word-of-mouth propaganda currently happening for the Bregenz Tosca, be it during the Munich opera festival or any other gathering where those knowledgeable of classical music meet, includes the add-on: '... but make sure you see it with the original première ensemble'. This, aside from the above-mentioned Todovorich, includes Nadja Michael as Tosca, and Israel-born Gidon Saks as Scarpia. There are, as we learn, three different ensembles doing the opera during the festival but on 5 August 2007 we managed to get, in a sold-out house, two press tickets for the première cast.
The sun sets over Lake Constance as the Bregenz Tosca begins. Photo © 2007 Philip Crebbin
The lake provides a brilliant backdrop for the Surrealist stage setting -- Magritte couldn't have done it better: a giant eye dominates the stage, changing throughout the opera to become, at times, a screen on which the face of Tosca is superimposed, an opening door to reveal a chorus of bishops, priests and other church officials, an execution platform for the unfortunate Cavaradossi, and finally, the edge from which he falls, some twenty metres down, one estimates, into the lake with a big 'plop' after he has been shot. A gasp goes through the audience. 'Did they really just throw him in the water?' they ask, un-opera like, in the midst of the performance, but this was too spectacular a move for most people to refrain from comment. Imagine it like this: Cavadorossi stands, blindfolded, on the former eye that has been turned around to become his execution platform. And that platform is very high up. He walks forward, still blindfolded, dangerously close to the edge, the shots are fired from the border of the lake, where the execution squad stands, and the prisoner drops, falling very close to the edge of the platform. You hear people muttering in the audience: 'My, isn't he very close to that edge, and blindfolded, too, let's hope, nothing happens.' In the next instant, the platform tilts sideward and pops him into the (presumably this time of night very cold) lake. With a 9pm beginning, and this happening toward the end, we are talking a chilly lake around 11pm. Yet, when he takes his bows, to the deafening clapping and cheers of his fans, some ten minutes later, Todorovich is looking very dry, wearing his execution clothes. Did he undergo an instant blow-dry session, then? The secret is revealed: it was a stuntman, the changeover happened just before Cavaradossi is led to his execution: when he is pressed to the wall by his prison guard, the wall, unseen to the audience, gives way, and in the blink of an eye, Todorovich swaps places with the stuntman. 'Isn't that chilly drop a bit tough on the poor stuntman?' I ask after the performance. 'Well, that is what they get paid for, isn't it,' a member of the orchestra shrugs.
A scene from Puccini's 'Tosca' at the Bregenz Festival. Photo © 2007 Philip Crebbin
As for the other spectacular moments that stick in mind: the torture scene creates unbearable tension as, over the screams of Cavaradossi, the eyeball becomes a giant screen to reveal in interchange the brutal face of the torturer, blood and gore in various stages, and a shadow-play of the torture going on behind the prison walls. If ever there was any doubt in anyone's mind that torture is wrong, this particular Tosca does away with it. And if you really don't know, then there are anti-torture slogans plastered all over the official programme as well.
Copyright © 11 August 2007
Tess Crebbin, Munich, Germany