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Pioneer Entertainment presents
Tosca (1985)

"Out of love for her Mario, she will surrender to my desire."
- Scarpia (Cornell MacNeil)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: June 25, 2000

Stars: James Levine, Hildegard Behrens, Placido Domingo
Other Stars: Cornell MacNeil
Director: Franco Zeffirelli

Manufacturer: Pioneer Video Manufacturing
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for implied torture, suicide
Run Time: 02h:05m:31s
Release Date: November 03, 1998
UPC: 013023009097
Genre: opera

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ AB-B+ D

DVD Review

Set during the Napoleonic Wars, Tosca is based on a popular play byVictorien Sardou. It centers on a love triangle between the artist MarioCavaradossi (Domingo), the vocalist Floria Tosca (Behrens) and the chief of thesecret police, Scarpia (MacNeil). When Cavaradossi assists an escaped politicalprisoner, Angelotti, Scarpia suspects his intervention. He incites the jealousy ofTosca, by hinting that Cavaradossi in fact loves Angelotti's sister, the MarchesaAttavanti. The secret police follow her to Cavaradossi's cabin and seek either tobreak Cavaradossi by torture, or to break Tosca by forcing her to listen to hisscreams. Scarpia, however, has his own selfish agenda, as he tries to get Toscato sacrifice herself to him in order for Cavaradossi to be spared.

The music is often memorable and quite accessible; there is little of the usualoperatic repetition of phrases ad nauseam. Almost every sung phrase advancesthe story somewhat, allowing a fairly brisk two-hour running time. Whilesomewhat dark, Tosca would make a good first opera for thebeginner.

The cast in this production is absolutely first-rate all the way. Domingo isflawless as Cavaradossi (one of his greatest roles), expressing passion andliberal instincts at once. His voice is incredibly powerful for a tenor, and he is atthe very height of his considerable powers in this recording. Behrens is suitablyregal as the title character, and believably resists Scarpia's suggestions at first,and then visibly is won over to suspicion, leading to catastrophe for allconcerned. MacNeil makes a good oily villain, pompous and full of himself,looking for opportunities at all times. The vocalists are all both excellentvocalists and actors, and bring off the piece unforgettably. This is aTosca for the ages.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The image unfortunately suffers, in no small part due to the fact this was a fairlyearly DVD. The picture is quite grainy throughout. Even though there is adecent bit rate of between 4 and 5 Mbps, I can't help but think that it would havecome across much better on an RSDL disc. That said, the sumptuousproduction design fares quite well. The first act, in particular, set in the church, isawe-inspiring in its beauty, artfully combining practical settings and statuary withpainted backdrop. The illusion of light through the painted windows is amazingindeed. The reds of the choir boys outfits are bright and sharp, withoutsmearing. The third act setting on the parapets of a castle are moody and agorgeous blue. Blacks are solid and dark, and the shadow detail is excellent.

I only wish that this disc had been released a little later and taken advantage ofthe possibilities of a higher video bit rate.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Italianyes

Audio Transfer Review: The only audio presented is a DD 2.0 (not Dolby Surround). The range isexcellent and the sound is overall good, although a little on the compressed side. The details of the vocal lines come through very well and are never overwhelmedby the orchestra. The orchestra is forceful and dynamic throughout however,giving a palpable tension that works to enhance the drama of the opera. I wouldhave preferred a PCM track if we were going to get stereo only, but this audiotrack will certainly suffice.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 30 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
Production Notes
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The only extra is a pamphlet which contains fairly good production notes andhistory of the opera, and a synopsis keyed to the chapter selections. Thechaptering is adequate, with one chapter per musical number. The subtitles areburned in and are not removable; no French or Spanish options are provided.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

This excellent production of Tosca unfortunately suffers a little frombeing an early release on DVD, with excessive grain and a low video bit rate. Perhaps some day we'll see an RSDL version that will capture its beauty better. Until then however, this disc is worthy of inclusion in any classical music library.


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