Financial Times , 14 May 2008
By Richard Fairman 
Puccini: Tosca, London, ROH, 12 May 2008
This is a handsome revival of a handsome production. After a number of casts in which there always seemed to be one element wanting, here was a performance that at last generated the lavish, old-style melodrama to which Jonathan Kent's traditional staging has always aspired.

His enjoyment of big visual statements - the massive statue of Justice in Scarpia's study or the symbolic wing of freedom that soars over the Castel Sant'Angelo - is mirrored in the musical performance. Antonio Pappano has returned to conduct, as he did when the production was new, and lifts the melodrama to similarly overbearing peaks. Sometimes it would help if he was less attentive to moulding every phrase and simply got a move on, but Pappano's Puccini glows from the inside out - a handsome orchestral sound to match what we see.

At the head of the cast is Jonas Kaufmann's highly impressive Cavaradossi. Although his voice is unlikely to be mistaken for an Italian tenor, Kaufmann is a first-rate singer who is now at the peak of his form. Everything goes right for him - the burnished sound, the solidly ringing top notes, the long phrases - and Kaufmann also cuts a dashing figure on stage, every bit the young arty liberal.

He is paired with two authentically Italian co-stars, the baritone Paolo Gavanelli and soprano Micaela Carosi. Gavanelli makes a tremendous Scarpia, so odious from the minute he walks on that it is no surprise Tosca physically recoils from him. For once here is a melodramatic villain who really sends a shudder down one's spine, a two-faced monster, now singing with the sweetest oily legato, now barking out with a voice like a bludgeon.

Carosi's Tosca is not on that level, though she has much to offer. The voice is on the brittle side, needing constant manipulation to move it round and keep it in tune, but at her best she is feisty, vivid and fiery, and true Italian Toscas are never two-a-penny. With Kostas Smoriginas as a strong Angelotti, Enrico Fissore a Sacristan without clichés, and Hubert Francis playing Spoletta as if he had an electric current going through him, there was dramatic life in every corner of this performance. A better revival of Tosca is unlikely to come this way soon. ****

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