Theaters, festivals and concert organizers are having a hard time at the moment. Especially since the Austrian federal government is lax and is trundling through the corona pandemic with constantly changing rules. The Salzburg Mozart Week has just had to be canceled because the risk of crowds due to the omicron virus is too high for the local authorities. At the beginning of the year, the Vienna State Opera canceled a number of performances in the ensemble due to Covid 19 diseases, as did the Theater in der Josefstadt. The Theater an der Wien was not spared either. As early as 2020, the much-announced "Fidelio" production by Hollywood star Christoph Waltz could only be shown as a live stream, and now the new "Tosca" almost fell into the water because the conductor Ingo Metzmacher fell ill a few days before the premiere.Luckily, Marc Albrecht, an extremely experienced opera conductor, could be found as a replacement.

Meticulously prepared, the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra – to begin with the artistically most remarkable of the evening – opens up a vibrating and menacing scenario in the very first bars with the dark Scarpia motif.

Albrecht holds the reins firmly in his hand, lets the RSO musicians play hard, edgy and transparent, so that this "Tosca" sounds pleasantly unpathetic.

A resilient, precisely played brio also contributes to this.

And in the tender passages of the opera there is no hint of false sentimentality.

In this way, Albrecht and the RSO Vienna succeed in creating a contemporary alternative to the philharmonic euphony in the nearby State Opera, where Margarethe Wallmann's Tosca production, created in 1958 during the Karajan era, is still being shown.

In a clerical fascist state

Martin Kušej wants to present his new production in a correspondingly contemporary way: a barren field of snow in a huge frosted glass cube determines the entire opera.

No church, no palaces.

Set designer Annette Murschetz places a gnarled, bare oak tree with severed limbs hanging from its branches in the midst of this wintry landscape.

Leaning against this Antichrist tree is a cross with an image of Mary, in front of which Tosca, unmoved by the atrocities, will immediately pray.

By merging the roles of sexton and gendarme Sciarrone (Rafał Pawnuk), Kušej gives the impression that the events are taking place in a clerical-fascist state in which nothing but murder and terror is left govern.

But how does an opera diva like Floria Tosca fit into this apocalyptic scenario? Are there still functioning institutions in such an anarchic situation? Especially since even the Palazzo Farnese, in which the second act of the opera actually takes place, has shrunk to an open camper. To avoid this inconsistency, Kušej has Tosca appear in the first act wearing a bright green crumpled leather coat. Is she a pop singer? Su Sigmund's costume is much too harmless for that. Or just a starlet? In Kušej's diffuse staging, it never becomes clear what actually moves this character. Kristine Opolais is only allowed to sing her deeply felt confession, "Vissi d'arte", with her back to the audience. That she willingly spread her legs even before Scarpia's frivolous offer - Cavaradossi's life for sex -exposes Kušej's view of the protagonist as almost misogynistic.

Instead of clearly contouring the characters and their relationships to each other through precise personal direction, the director, who also acts quite unsuccessfully as Burgtheater director, flees into superficial moments of shock, such as the loud torture of Cavaradossi, who at the end, covered in blood, is thrown onto Tosca, who is lying on the floor. An artificially introduced character creates additional confusion: the Marchesa Attavanti, in Giuseppe Giacosa's and Luigi Illica's libretto only mentioned in the text as the helper of her brother Angelotti (Ivan Zinoviev), appears in a silent role (Sophie Aujesky), first in the Marian mantle, then as a Torture victim Scarpias. She ends up shooting Tosca. But why? A relationship to Cavaradossi is not shown; she cannot have any knowledge of Tosca's betrayal of her brother's hiding place, which was blackmailed by Scarpia.

The vocal performances, on the other hand, are extremely pleasing, making it possible to hear how much more deeply Puccini's music illuminates the characters. The young Chilean tenor Jonathan Tetelman stands out as Cavaradossi. Precisely phrasing with the orchestra, always rhythmically accurate, he impresses with his clear, focused voice, which shines with metallic volume even in the high registers. A fabulous debut at the Theater an der Wien and a promise for a great international future. The Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais finds Tosca's lyrical passages much better than the dramatic ones, in which she often uses excessive vibrato to help.

Gábor Bretz sings an impeccable Scarpia, who, as a dark, driving character, is let down the most by the director.

Kušej wanted to sharpen the cinematic aspect of Tosca, which undoubtedly existed, and bring the opera close to the sadism of The Silence of the Lambs.

Unfortunately, the only result was a bad, lacking in energy “little TV play”.

Which the audience rightly acknowledged with a veritable booing hurricane.

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