This impassioned tale of the titular singer (Angela Gheorghiu), who desperately tries to save the life of her lover, the painter and political rebel Cavaradossi (Roberto Alagna), from the evil machinations of Baron Scarpia (Ruggero Raimondi), chief of the secret police, has thrilled generations of opera-goers. Blessed with one of Puccini's most refulgent, aria-laden scores and starring two of the biggest stars in the business guided by one of the most interesting contemporary directors, there was every reason to look forward to this film.
Unfortunately, Jacquot has made a complete hash of the work. Every conceivable mistake a director could make in filming opera has been perpetrated here. The staging is highly unappetizing, with ugly, stylized sets, which make the work seem even stagier than it would be in any theatre. He keeps the singers in punishing closeup, without modulating their florid stage performances, so their faces, hugely blown up on the screen, mug unbecomingly. He jarringly cuts away from the action with interspersed black-and-white footage of the artists recording the opera in a sound studio (stirringly conducted by Antonio Pappano). During a scene in which Tosca hears Cavaradossi scream as he's being tortured, Jacquot gives us an idiotic shot--also unaccountably in black-and-white--of Alagna, writhing with a ridiculous vise on his skull. As Tosca launches into her famous aria "Vissi d'arte," he keeps the camera fixed on the back of her head.
Alagna and Gheorghiu, married in real life, can be wonderful performers onstage, glamorous, attractive personalities who, for once, look the parts and can act them as well. Here, he comes off better than she, with his ringing tenor voice beautifully making a meal of his two great arias, "Recondita armonia" and the heartbreaking, "E lucevan le stelle." She has been unbecomingly made up and costumed, and over-emotes with the near-risible intensity of silent-screen vamps like Theda Bara and Nita Naldi. Her voice, which has a secco (dry) quality to it, has never been the prettiest, but she knows how to use it. Raimondi makes the maleficent Scarpia a dominatingly strong presence. Enrico Fissore, as the Sacristan, hams hideously in the opening scenes, an accurate early indicator of the general failure of the entire project.