Covent garden Tosca review


Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (December 17) *****
Far from being what Joseph Kerman famously, pompously and wrong-headedly described as a "shabby little shocker", Puccini's Tosca is a masterpiece of insight into human motivation and aspiration, and has each of us looking with recognition into our own responses. It embraces hope, despair, loyalty, sacrifice and extremes of courage. Nothing shabby about those sentiments.
And this revival of Jonathan Kent's production, curated here by Amy Lane, focusses exactly on the matter in hand, firmly in the opera's context of Rome's response to Napoleonic political upheavals, and with no distracting fripperies brought by self-indulgent "director's opera". Paul Brown's designs set the scene brilliantly – the intricate gated mysteries of Sant' Andrea della Valle's crypt, the sombre opulence of Scarpia's Palazzo Farnese apartments, ensuite torture chamber included, the stark ramparted roof of the Castel Sant'Angelo --, atmospherically lit by Mark Henderson, illumination coming at crucial moments.
The cast I saw had three changes from that of the opening night. Claudio Sgura was a compelling Scarpia, a Chief of Police totally in command of his powers, and chilling in his calculated progress towards possessing Tosca. As the choirboys capered and crowds assembled for Mass at the end of Act One his Te Deum mixing false piety with slavering lust was memorably delivered.
As his lust-object Floria Tosca, Anna Pirozzi was both touching and imperious, little details and asides revealing both jealousy and intimacy in her relationship with the painter Cavaradossi, her despair at Scarpia's forthcoming rape of her heartbreakingly expressed in a time-stopping "Vissi d;'arte" – its mood broken by the braying of the uncultured insensitives in the audience cheering the end of an aria they obviously recognised from Classic FM, and setting a shocking example to the many young people in the audience. This gladiatorial excess totally diminished the effect of what would have been a brilliant consequence, Scarpia miming ironic applause as Tosca brought her lament to a close.
All this happens while Cavaradossi is being tortured to reveal the whereabouts of his friend Angelotti, an escaped political prisoner (Yuriy Yurchuk totally convincing in this role), and the still amazingly young Freddie de Tommaso brings an astonishingly mature portrayal as the painter. His tenor rings heroically, all the sustained high notes are confidently held, and his timbre has a slight baritonal edge which adds weight to glamour. His defiant "Vittoria", hurled out during his torture, summed up all his vocal and dramatic prowess.
Though I was disappointed by the lack of terror in her conducting of the portentous Scarpia chords at the very start of the opera Oksana Lyniv presided over a fluent, sympathetic and supple collaboration with the stage, the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House on tremendous form with some wonderful solo work (solo cellos after "Vissi d'arte", just one example).
I have seen many Toscas, but none surpassed this. And the icing on the cake of this marvellous evening was our dinner in the Balconies restaurant, smoothly served to tie in with each act, and the food absolutely delicious. Don't miss the carpaccio of venison starter!
Christopher Morley

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