Mundoclasico, 25/08/2011
Ditlev Rindom
Puccini: Tosca, ROH London, 14 July 2011
A Tosca For Our Times
London, 14/07/2011. The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Giacomo Puccini, Tosca. Jonathan Kent, director. Duncan Macfarland, revival director. Oaul Brown, designs. Mark Henderson, lighting designs. Lukas Jakobski (Cesare Angelotti), Jeremy White (Sacristan), Jonas Kaufmann (Mario Cavaradossi), Angela Gheorghiu (Floria Tosca), Bryn Terfel (Baron Scarpia), Hubert Francis (Spoletta), Zhengzhong Zhou (Sciarrone), John Morrissy (Gaoler). The Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House. Renato Balsadonna, chorus master. Antonio Pappano, conductor

First things first: this was the best performance of Tosca at Covent Garden in years. Jonathan Kent´s 2006 production was originally staged as a vehicle for Angela Gheorghiu, Marcelo Alvarez and Bryn Terfel and has been revived several times since, featuring stars such as Violeta Urmana, Jonas Kaufmann and Marcello Giordani. For anyone familiar with the Royal Opera House, the current run has a peculiar feeling of déjà-vu, combining as it does the cream of previous performers into one star-spangled package.

A word of clarification, however. The first eight performances of this run featured Martina Serafin, Marcello Giordani and Juha Uusitalo in the principal roles, with the cast in question only dropping in for the last two - shows recorded for later cinema broadcast. This raises the inevitable question of at what point an opera performance turns into a recording session with an audience, since only a fraction of visitors would be able to attend these glitzy occasions. In a tough economic climate, it probably makes sense to maximize the financial output from such celebrities, but it does cast an unfortunate light on their otherwise esteemed colleagues, who have given four times as many performances. Is this a template for the future? If so, it doesn´t bode well for collegial spirit.

These reservations aside, the musical performance was tremendous, and met by thundering ovations at the end of every act. The audience´s favourite was probably Bryn Terfel, who has previously appeared in two revivals. His leering, sadistic and utterly perverse Scarpia is something of a classic, and the way he manipulates his naturally glowing timbre to suggest the Baron´s lustful desires is a joy to behold, his voice feeding off every word. Alongside him, Jonas Kaufmann gave a wonderfully passionate reading of Cavaradossi, successfully combining the dreamy artist, virile lover and revolutionary activist. He also took his shirt off, which should guarantee a few extra buyers of the DVD. ***His best moment for me was 'E lucevan le stelle' where his endless supply of breath and perfect diminuendi made time stand still, and his earlier cries of "Vittoria! Vittoria!" brought the house down.

More controversial – at least judging by the audience response - was Angela Gheorghiu. She received a very warm ovation, if somewhat less so than her colleagues, and gave a highly convincing account of Tosca´s transition from playful kitten to murdering tigress. She has the seductive timbre and fiery temperament for this role and for her audience the presence of cameras is always a godsend, guaranteeing a level of dramatic involvement she doesn´t always provide. Her only limitation was entirely expected: decibels. The top of her voice is strong and the sound always exceptionally beautiful, but her lyric instrument doesn´t naturally ride Puccini´s orchestra in the expected fashion and at times one wished in vain for a stronger, more naturally vibrant middle of the voice. That said, her detailed phrasing and exquisitely dusky shadings were constant compensations and 'Vissi d'arte' had the expected impact. Medium-level projection is a price I'm happy to pay for a diva this believable.

The other great stars of the night were in the pit - the Royal Opera House Orchestra absolutely on fire under Antonio Pappano's inspired direction. The music roared, swooned and sobbed in one unstoppable arch, so much so that the only real break for applause was after Tosca's aria. Delicate string solos aside, this was red-blooded Puccini with the brass blasting the audience in their seats, and the house went wild for it.

Jonathan Kent's production (as I've said before) doesn't do much; it's a perfectly serviceable series of sets but it offers no real insights or visual attractions to drive the story onwards. When the music is this good, though, it hardly matters. This was a Tosca to stand comparison with the greats of the past.

*** Um die "few extra byers" nicht zu enttäuschen, der Hemdlose war einer der Gefängniswärter, ein (recht gut gebauter) Statist.

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