First, I assure the reader that to give the praise it deserves to the Dutch National Opera production of TOSCA just released on video by NAXOS, I will refrain from dismissing all Toscas still available on both video and cd as inferior.

Malin Byström as Tosca – easy on the eye and ear – is just right for the role, vocally Italianate and singing throughout with a mix of lyrical elegance in her duets with Cavaradossi, and with dramatic thrust in her confrontations with Scarpia, Byström delivers Vissi d’arte right into Scarpia’s face, undressed down to her slip. When she stabs him, she transitions from the flirtatious lover of act one into a force of nature, thrusting the knife into him repeatedly, like an avenging fury, as blood spatters her and the countertop where Scarpia breathes his last – no crucifix, no candles for him, not from her.

Finally, a tenor who both looks and sings like a young lover, Joshua Guerrero’s Cavaradossi is superbly drawn. As Scarpia, chilling and vocally perfect, Gevorg Hakobyan is a dramatic baritone on the brink of a major international career.

The three leads are strongly supported by Martijn Sanders’ Angelotti, Federico de Michelis’ Sacristan, Lucas van Lierop’s Spoletta, and by the meanest pack of plainclothes thugs that ever inhabited the City of Rome.

There is not much in the way of scenery, not to slight Rufus Didwiszus minimalist depiction of the interior of Santa Maria della Croce. Gone is the gigantic painting Cavaradossi has to access via a ladder: he is first seen working on a canvas set up on a painter’s easel, surrounded by several small canvasses soon to be trashed by Scarpia’s henchmen. Towards the end of the act, the empty stage opens to reveal a back wall occupied by an enormous fresco that depicts the final day of judgement.

Act II no longer depicts an elegant salon in the Farnese palace, but something like a kitchen that doubles as Scarpia’s office, equipped with a very visible set of kitchen knives – one of which is used by Tosca at the end of the act. Klaus Bruns’ contemporary costumes look good on all the players, starting with Tosca’s elegant daytime dress for act I and her act II red outfit. Franck Evin’s inconspicuous lighting does the right job.

What makes this new Tosca especially compelling is the lengths to which stage director Barrie Kosky has gone to avoid all the clichés that the public has grown to tolerate all these years. First and foremost, the self-titled Gay Jewish Kangaroo has tamed all his cast into recognizably human behavior, with mercifully neither posturing nor grandstanding from anyone.

Kosky’s Tosca is a triumph for him, for the Dutch National Opera, for the young but musically magisterial maestro Fabio Luisi, and for all the artists involved in this production.

Rafael de Acha © 2023

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