Express, July 27,2011
By William Hartston
Puccini: Tosca, ROH London, 14 July 2011
THERE were long queues for returns at Covent Garden for the final performance of the Royal Opera's 2010-11 season and many must have been disappointed, but those who did get in were treated to a truly memorable experience.

Puccini's Tosca has always been one of the most dramatic of all operas, both in the quality of its music and the intensity of its plot, but when it is performed by a cast as outstanding as this one, it is sensational.

For a start, the title role was played by Angela Gheorghiu, who has the most complete and mesmerising soprano voice I have ever heard. Then there was the wonderful Bryn Terfel as Scarpia, who must surely be the most villainous villain in all opera. Oozing malice with every note and gesture, he was perfect for the role.

But above all, there was Jonas Kaufmann, who has for some time been considered one of the world's greatest tenors, but on this occasion gave a performance that would have left the others a long way behind.

His intense, good looks are perfect for a doomed romantic hero, the painter Cavaradossi, his acting was superb, his voice was unbelievably good, varying from sublime softness to immense power in a way that was totally thrilling.

Yet Kaufmann was not the only one who looked the part. Angela Gheorghiu's acting has always fallen shoprt of the impossibly high standards of her singing, but her dark, intense, Amy Winehouse-like beauty is just right for Tosca, while Bryn Terfel, especially in a long-haired, greasy wig, is a dead ringer for Meatloaf , which is just what the part of Scarpia calls for.

The three main characters form a particularly vicious triangle. Set in the time of the Napoleonic wars, it centres on Cavaradossi's love for the opera singer Tosca, who is also the object of Scarpia's brutal carnal lust. When Cavaradossi helps an escaped political prisoner, Scarpia seizes his chance.

Flinging the painter into his torture chamber, and letting Tosca hear his creams, he gives her the choice: let me have my evil way with you, or his agonies will continue. She apparently gives in, but when they are alone together, Tosca stabs Scarpia through the heart.

She runs off to be with her lover after what Scarpia promised would be a mock execution by firing squad, but of course this was just a wicked ruse. Finding Cavaradossi dead, Tosca jumps from the battlements to kill herself too.

It's all wonderful dramatic stuff, enhanced by Puccini's glorious music, with the powerful singing of this terrific cast giving the orchestra under Antonio Pappano the chance to really let rip without the fear of drowning the singers.

With productions varying from the world premiere of the outrageous Anna Nicole to sublime performances of Massenet's Werther and Verdi's Macbeth, The Royal Opera have had a splendid year, and this Tosca was the perfect way to finish it. And the 2011-12 season looks like being at least as good.

Rating: 5/5


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