The Guardian, 14 May 2008
Tim Ashley
Puccini: Tosca, London, ROH, 12 May 2008
When Jonathan Kent's production of Tosca opened two years ago, there were mutterings that it bore too close a resemblance to its predecessor, the 1964 Franco Zeffirelli staging that served the Royal Opera for four decades. But despite occasional - indeed inevitable - similarities in design, the two stagings are, in fact, markedly different in tone.

Where Zeffirelli regarded Puccini as a realist, Kent views him as decadent and repeatedly emphasises the transgressive quality of the action. He quietly reminds us that everything that happens - even the love scene between Tosca and Cavaradossi - is dangerously out of place in a church. Scarpia's centre of operations, meanwhile, is a desecrated library, where torture chambers lurk behind shelves of Enlightenment tomes. The atmosphere is unnerving, though Kent becomes overly symbolist in the closing scenes, in which a huge wing, suggestive of both fate and freedom, hovers over the lovers' final colloquies.

This latest revival is spellbinding, its only weakness, sadly, being Micaela Carosi's Tosca, a grand manner performance, sung with thrilling heft, but dramatically too reliant on all-purpose gestures. Her old-school style throws the subtlety of Jonas Kaufmann's Cavaradossi and Paolo Gavanelli's Scarpia into sharp relief. Both are superb. Kaufmann is a revolutionary sensualist, who alternately woos Carosi with meltingly beautiful pianissimos and defies Gavanelli with electrifying sequences of high notes. Gavanelli oozes evil from start to finish, yet you also sense the mixture of proletarian unease and fierce ambition that have made him the monster he has become. In the pit, meanwhile, Antonio Pappano adds to the malaise with conducting of insidious beauty and oppressive force.

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