Puccini's tale of love and betrayal has been adapted for the screen on numerous occasions but, as is the way with most opera movies, has never reached out to mainstream audiences. Benoît Jacquot's "Tosca" takes some of opera's leading lights and puts them in a lavish production but fails to really fuse Puccini's work with its cinema format.
The story's pretty simple - Tosca's lover Cavaradossi is concealing a political fugitive and is under investigation from the corrupt Baron Scarpia. Exploiting Tosca's love for Cavaradossi, Scarpia makes her believe that divulging information to him will rescue her lover from execution. Many emotional outbursts, declarations of feelings and a few double crossings later, Tosca realises she's been betrayed by Scarpia, with tragic consequences.
What's frustrating about Jacquot's "Tosca" is that the entire look of the film resembles a stage - large open spaces fading out into darkness - so why bother filming it? Beyond showing fuzzy glimpses of exteriors between scenes, Jacquot never takes advantage of the opportunities afforded by the camera or location shooting and keeps the action contained within one stage per act.
Additionally he goes to great pains to demonstrate that the music is pre-recorded; framing and intercutting the film with sequences showing the orchestra and singers with microphones. There's no need, then, for settings with good acoustics, so it's disappointing that he wasn't more adventurous.
The camera does lend an intimate feel and there are some beautiful shots, in particular those of Tosca in a dazzling floor length red dress in the second act. The soundtrack is also first rate, with stunning performances on some of the arias.
With more imagination "Tosca" could have crossover appeal, but as it stands it's an opera movie for the buffs.
In Italian with English subtitles.