Tosca, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, May 2019. The Royal Opera’s terrific production of Tosca retains its appeal in this revival of Jonathan Kent’s staging by Andrew Sinclair. The magnificent sets and subtle changes of lighting draw us in to the tragedy crafted by Puccini and his librettists from Sardou’s original play. There is a darkness here, and a power, both secular and spiritual, embodied by the Chief of Police, Baron Scarpia, and the opera singer Tosca.
Bryn Terfel’s Scarpia is insidious, controlled and a perfect expression of lust and naked power. Numerous small details in his stage actions emphasise supreme command, and a determination to use Tosca in locating escaped prisoner Angelotti, before breaking down her resistance to him in Act II. As Tosca, Kristine Opolais sang with huge sincerity, beautifully expressing her jealousy in Act I, and her anguish in Act II as Scarpia orders the further torture of her free-thinking lover, the painter Cavaradossi. Her vissi d’arte, telling how she has lived for art and love, before finally turning on him with a knife, was beautifully nuanced, with tempo changes mirrored perfectly in the orchestra under the excellent baton of Alexander Joel. The interactions between her and Scarpia provided the great moments in this performance, with Vittorio Grigòlo’s Cavaradossi as a mere tool in the Police Chief’s arsenal. But Grigòlo is a great showman, singing the role for the first time with the Royal Opera, touching the stage during the curtain calls, and delivering his Act II Vittoria and Act III E lucevan le stelle with well-staged panache. Yet in Act I his penetrating voice was so overpowering that Recondita armonia, that pensive paean to the contrasting beauties of two women, lacked the sublime magic it can sometimes convey. Super duets with Kristine Opolais, however, as the opera progressed.
Smaller roles were well taken too, and the shepherd boy in Act III — the role in which Grigòlo made his debut as a child — was beautifully sung by Joshua Abrams. In Act I, Young Artist and Scottish-Iranian bass-baritone Michael Mofidian showed excellent depth and anxiety as the escaped prisoner Angelotti, and New Zealand-born Samoan bass Jonathan Lemalu sang with refreshing mellowness as the Sacristan, rightly terrified of Scarpia yet avoiding the portrayal of an old bumbler. Those scenes in the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle were staged with the theatricality inherent in this opera, particularly as the choirboys scatter at the entrance of Scarpia, and the choristers and others make their way forward at the end of the Act. Perfection.
Altogether a performance of enormous power, with conductor Alexander Joel extracting wonderful playing from the orchestra.
Continues until 20 June — details here.