This "Tosca" isn´t one more: Marcelo Álvarez was back after 19 years; in his Colón debut he had sung very well the Duke of Mantua in "Rigoletto". He had been flanked by Sumi Jo and Leo Nucci; also there was the revelation of Erwin Schrott as Monterone! And then, no more: our tenor, born in Córdoba, developed a splendid career in Europe and the USA, but no Colón Director either showed interest or managed to come to terms with Álvarez.
I won´t speculate about the reasons of this sorry state of affairs; Álvarez is an international star and demands to be treated as one. He says that he called Lopérfido and found him receptive. He is now 54 and feels that he is at the top of his form; he hopes to make the Colón one of his favorite theatres along with the Met and the Covent Garden.
There are further reasons to welcome this "Tosca": foremost, that it is the first decent international cast in an Italian repertoire opera in a long time. In other words, one that could be seen in the mentioned houses, where they have that privilege very often. So it is one step (just one!) in the uphill recuperation of the Colón´s prestige.
The other main reason is the homage to Roberto Oswald: his longtime collaborators, Aníbal Lápiz and Christian Prego, have presented with great care the production that had been seen in 1992, 1993, 1998 and 2003, with some changes along the way. For in these sad days to see a production that respects the libretto is a rare pleasure after so many disasters. The costumes designed by Lápiz are admirable and fully in accord with the Rome of the early Nineteenth Century. And the Te Deum that closes the First Act is stunning.
"Tosca" must happen in the places specified by librettrists Illica and Giacosa; First Act, the Church Sant´Andrea della Valle; Second, the Farnese Palace; Third, Terrace of the Castel Sant´Angelo. Oswald´s conception of the Church is very beautiful and well distributed; the only reservation is that the supposed painting looks like a fresco. The Farnese is impeccable and functional. But the Castel as imagined by Oswald, dominated by a spectacular statue, doesn´t have a nook in the wall that should serve for Tosca´s suicide jump, as has been traditional. The solution he initially found wasn´t liked by the audience: breaking with the realistic style of all the rest, she didn´t jump and a luminous halo surrounded her. On the following season he found an alternative, the one we saw now: she jumps, yes, but into a big hole on the terrace.
And a final reason for the interest of this "Tosca" was the debut of an important Dutch soprano: Eva-Maria Westbroek. She sings Wagner, Puccini, Shostakovich, Janácek, Berlioz, Verdi, Strauss, in all the great theatres and with major conductors.
How did this "Tosca" come out in its first performance (Gran Abono) on a Saturday? First the singers.
Obviously this was a very special day for Marcelo Álvarez. He has measured up to big challenges during all these years and feels quite sure of his means, but there was a surcharge of emotion being in front of the Colón audience after so many years. However, he is a seasoned professional and showed no hesitation.
First Act: he took no chances: his singing was extrovert, his gestures were expansive. The voice sounded firm and healthy, the musical phrasing attempted no subtleties. The good applause after his aria was reassuring.. Second Act: his Cavaradossi grew in intensity and there were some interesting details; e.g., after his frank attack on "Vittoria!" he had the stamina for the following denunciation of tyrants. Third Act: a very good "E lucevan le stelle" (great applause) and a duet with Tosca where he knew how to subdue his voice and find the soft shades that enrich an interpretation. He had won the battle. A personal reaction: I don´t find his timbre distinctive in the sense of being easily recognisable, as happens with Domingo or Björling or Pavarotti.
Westbroek: I knew her from DVDs in which the big voice and strong presence made an impact. The same factors were there in her live performance of Tosca, but she was more uneven than I remembered: too much vibrato at certain points, and particularly two high notes that went awry (especially in that dangerous attack on "Io quella lama" when she narrates how she killed. It raised eyebrows of preoccupation as to her current vocal condition. But make no mistake, she is an artist of quality.
There was another Álvarez, Carlos, the efficient Spanish baritone that had sung Iago with Cura some years ago. His Scarpia was well sung and acted though short on volume and dramatic projection.
The seasoned Sacristan of Luis Gaeta was as good as ever; Mario de Salvo was correct as the fugitive Angelotti; Sergio Spina was properly slimy as the bailiff Spoletta; and there were fine voices even for Sciarrone (Fernando Grassi) and the Jailer (Carlos Esquivel). Julieta Unrein sang prettily as the offstage Shepherdess.
Carlos Vieu conducted with the firmness and knowledge that make of him a guarantee of style; the Orchestra responded well, and both Choirs (adults and children) sang with ease and character.
There will be a promising second cast with Eiko Senda, Enrique Folger and Fabián Veloz.
For Buenos Aires Herald