— At the Festival

Published on July 15 2019


Tosca de Puccini – mise en scène Christophe Honoré – direction musicale Daniele Rustioni – Festival d’Aix-en-Provence 2019 © Jean Louis Fernandez
© Jean Louis Fernandez


Puccini’s opera was a triumph in Aix-en-Provence under the baton of Daniele Rustioni, principal conductor of the Opéra National de Lyon.
Angel Blue’s singing was filled with sweet promises, dulcet tones and proud high notes; and this twenty-first-century Tosca (jeans and a hoodie were indeed the right choice) firmly reflects its era, one that refutes the Expressionist style of its elders and prefers more natural, focused, expressive singing, free of ostentation. She received a standing ovation. As did Joseph Calleja’s Cavaradossi, whose polished shine has has become just slightly tarnished, producing less radiant high notes that are sometimes nearly shouts. There were no signs of weakness, on the other hand, for Scarpia as played by the powerful Alexeï Markov, whose singing is made of fire and of iron, in which each note is a sentence and an execution.
The last paradoxical, yet fascinating, act was both a stroke of genius and an exercise in futility. Freed from all imagery, the score was placed back in the hands of the musicians. The video was gone. The orchestra reigned over the stage, and the performers, dressed in evening wear, had moved to the proscenium. An unusual podium saluted the glorious orchestra of the Opéra de Lyon, led with inspiration by the extremely talented Italian conductor Daniele Rustioni.


The filmmaker Christophe Honoré takes a new look—with mastery and intelligence—at Puccini’s work.
At the risk of being repetitive, what one wants from a festival is originality. Something you cannot see or hear in a classic venue, which must think of the long term. From this point of view, the
Tosca directed by Christophe Honoré at Aix-en-Provence and coproduced by the Opéra de Lyon is resolutely, and unambiguously, a festival production. [...]
This production—a declaration of love to opera and its actors—is a spectacular tour de force. But one may still wonder whether the mastery has gone to its head, whether it has become intoxicated by its own trickery or artifice. But is opera not just that: the world of artifice?
The production is built around the captivating interaction between 35-year-old Angel Blue and 71-year-old Catherine Malfitano. The young American sings Tosca for the first time: her voice is a true revelation, sweet and intense, powerful and robust, magnificently projected, and her facial expressions are disarmingly honest. […] The supporting cast, their cohorts and the chorus are all excellent, as is the conductor Daniele Rustioni, who offers a beautiful mixture of passion and transparency, and the orchestra of the Opéra de Lyon, with its rich spectrum of color.


More mise en abyme than representation, Christophe Honoré’s staging explores the myth of the diva based on Puccini’s opera. The elaborate scenic design and the meticulously regulated stage guarantee a memorable production.
Painstakingly thought-out, adjusted, implemented, and controlled, this production sweeps away reluctance so you can be carried away by emotion. It is the kind of emotion born when one passes along art, since, in this unique production, two performers play the title role: the diva who is at the end of her career, and the young woman who is just starting out. The emotion is also kindled by a homage to generations past through an original use of video, with streaming archive footage of opera, as well as skillfully filmed images from today, as if in counterpoint to the main story.
One could worry that the American soprano Angel Blue might underwhelm in such an intense role, despite her charming, full and luminous voice. But her presence and passion become increasingly evident. Joseph Calleja in the role of Mario Cavaradossi, her fiancé, may not have the most radiant tenor voice, and his high notes are not the most open, but his style is impeccable and his acting perfect. On the other hand, Alexey Markov as Scarpia, the odious chief of police, is clearly a powerful singer, but he remains mundane, and trumpets his human mediocrity.


In what is magical for some and heretical for others, Christophe Honoré has taken Puccini’s opera and transformed it into an ode to all divas and into a bitter-sweet Hollywood comedy.
This evening, we did not see
Tosca, but rather a much more interesting production: a director’s loving gesture to all divas; to their sparkling voices that, like shepherds, guide our eardrums (their sheep); and to their loneliness when old age sets in. He sacrificed an opera, their working tool, in order to pay them homage. And during the extended curtain calls, we also witnessed a warm and natural passing of the baton between two American sopranos from two different generations, each one wholly in her place.


Puccini’s Tosca has inspired Christophe Honoré and Daniele Rustioni to create a somewhat “offbeat” production, which was performed at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence on Thursday, July 4. Their finished work strikes at the core of the celebrated opera.
With an abundance of often very touching details—so many that the audience must constantly choose where to look (until Act III, which is remarkably stark, in its gripping
mise en abyme)—, Christophe Honoré’s vision is intimately tied to conductor Daniele Rustioni’s musical reading. Conducting the musicians and choral group of the Opéra de Lyon, who were shining to the fullest, the young Italian draws the perfect line between the passion that fills every measure of the score, the melodic genius that makes Puccini so immediately touching, and the incredible refinement of the instrumentation.
Everything quivers, trembles, scintillates—and even roars—under his baton. A flute, cellos, a harp, horns… enrobe the singers’ voices, sometimes with a nocturnal veil, and other times with a heavy brocade of shimmering colors. Alexey Markov’s rich and elegant timber adds depth to the heinous Scarpia, who becomes even more disturbing and paradoxical when he is not portrayed as a libidinous old tyrant. Despite his weaker high notes (his middle register, however, is superb), Joseph Calleja brings the tenderness and passion of Mario to life.


Christophe Honoré’s acrobatic use of mise en abyme works from beginning to end.
Albeit disconcerting for those who are not warned, Christophe Honoré’s production is perfectly in line with the creative laboratory that is the Festival d’Aix. […]
Daniele Rustioni is a magician who adds spirit and intensity to the unfolding drama as he conducts the orchestra of the Opéra de Lyon. […] Angel Blue, who received a standing ovation on the night of the premiere, shines in the third act. To employ the thread of Christophe Honoré’s production, she perfectly embodies the diva of today.


Always present on stage, Catherine Malfitano helps a new diva emerge, while still revealing her own (unadorned) personality, through distant memories of her past glory, and her false pleasures for monetary gain, until the fading star yields the stage, and her role, to youth, embodied by Angel Blue. The younger soprano also gave a stunning performance on the stage of the Archevêché, one she will undoubtedly never forget. She is exceptional, especially in her moving “Vissi d’arte.” Her voice is supple, ideally placed, and her vocal lines are precise. The aging Cavaradossi—who bridges the gap between the prima donna, for whom he still has feelings between two glasses of whisky, and the budding diva—is believable in the role. Vocally, his medium register is beautiful, and his great technique serves him well for his high notes. As Scarpia, Alexey Markov is wholly successful, thanks to his sharp, clear, powerful, and supple voice. Also appreciated were the musicians of the excellent orchestra of the Opéra de Lyon, who came with the chorus—and all the mastery—of their house, and were conducted by the dynamic Daniele Rustioni. Just as we wrote two years ago after Tcherniakov’s Carmen, the distinct nature of a festival is to shake things up. Such is the case with this production of Tosca, which has the added advantage of being artistically and vocally top notch.