Mail on Sunday 18 May 2008
Puccini: Tosca, London, ROH, 12 May 2008
A delightfully distressed diva 
It was sad when the much revived production of Tosca created for Maria Callas in 1964 was pensioned off two years ago. Especially since Jonathan Kent's new effort, with equally massive sets by Paul Brown, is very similar, and rightly so for an opera as specifically set in time and place as Tosca.

The one advantage is that a newish production makes it easier to attract first-class singers. And the Royal Opera, who so often in the past seriously undercast Tosca, have done us proud this time with the increasingly celebrated German tenor Jonas Kaufmann as Cavaradossi, well supported by Paolo Gavanelli's Scarpia and Micaela Carosi's Tosca. It also helps to have an outstanding Puccinian such as Antonio Pappano in the pit.

Kaufmann sings with ardour and a headily beautiful tone, and now sounds truly Italianate.

Most Cavaradossis are portly, so Kaufmann's athletic physique is doubly welcome.

And he makes the most of it in some of his confrontations with Scarpia in Act 2, which have real menace.

Gavanelli is the reigning Rigoletto of today, but his Scarpia is not quite in that league because it lacks rasp; the kind Tito Gobbi brings to the party in the Callas recording recommended below. But otherwise his Scarpia is more considered and his villainy subtle and therefore more credible than the caricatures with which we are so often presented.

Carosi's Tosca, blowsy of figure and, under pressure, squally of tone, also avoids caricature because she is still young and, no doubt encouraged by this revival's director, Stephen Barlow, has really worked on her acting. Her Tosca is a realistic diva in distress, and her last-act emotional collapse and suicide have authentic pathos.

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