Royal Opera House – Jonathan Kent’s production of Puccini’s Tosca – Natalya Romaniw, Freddie De Tommaso & Erwin Schrott; conducted by Daniel Oren


Tosca – Melodramma in three Acts to a libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa & Luigi Illica based on the play La Tosca by Victorien Sardou [sung in Italian with English surtitles]

Floria Tosca – Natalya Romaniw
Mario Cavaradossi – Freddie De Tommaso
Baron Scarpia – Erwin Schrott
Cesare Angelotti – Josef Jeongmeen Ahn
Sacristan – Jeremy White
Spoletta – Hubert Francis
Sciarrone – Thomas D Hopkinson
Young Shepherd – Madeleine McGhee
Jailer – John Morrissey

Royal Opera Chorus

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Daniel Oren

Jonathan Kent – Director
Simon Iorio – Revival Director
Paul Brown – Designer
Mark Henderson – Lighting Designer

3 of 5 stars

Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers

Reviewed: 12 December, 2022
Venue: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

Although the events of Tosca occur in the middle of June, with the backdrop of Napoleon’s victory at Marengo in 1800, and Jonathan Kent’s production sets it with historical accuracy at that time (on quite a monumental scale) this is nonetheless an unremittingly dark vision of the work. But the three principal characters – taken up at this point by three new singers, halfway through this run for its remainder – hardly remain hidden in the shadows, as they come boldly to the fore, choreographically and musically.

The production starts not in a side chapel of Rome’s Sant’Andrea della Valle, but down in what looks like a crypt, beyond the gates around the high altar at which the Te Deum is celebrated at the end of Act One. The windows of Scarpia’s apartment are closed against the night most of the time for Act Two, and a staircase circles down into the depths of his hellish torture chamber. It is notable that there are few books on the otherwise conspicuously numerous empty shelves which occupy one end of the room – the enlightenment of thought and new ideas doesn’t appear to penetrate this lair over which he presides. Like the enactment of the Te Deum, the hypocrisy of religion used as the fig leaf for tyrannical power obtrudes with an oversize statue of the Archangel Michael – ambiguously or ironically so since, despite Tosca’s vengeful triumph over Scarpia at its foot in this Act, it seems to portend Scarpia’s ultimate victory over her and Cavaradossi, in his execution and her suicide at the Castel Sant’Angelo (named after the same saint and crowned by that same sculpture). Although the final Act takes place out on its roof, open to the sky, the oppressive blackness of night prevents that from feeling like any sort of release after the closed-in settings of the previous two Acts, and the light of dawn is barely allowed to infiltrate. Even if there is very little external evidence of Scarpia’s wider police state within the production overall, its oppressive force – propped up by the facade of established religion – is everywhere manifest in more suggestive ways.

Within that gloom, however, are the resolute and strongly rhetorical performances from the three principals. Natalya Romaniw makes her debut at the Royal Opera House in the title role, impressing for the maturity of her voice which registers Tosca’s confidence and attempts to divert events in her favour despite the forces ranged against her. It isn’t so much her account of ‘Vissi d’arte’ which embodies that – she starts it insecurely and tentatively, and remains tender rather than defiant – as her forceful, volatile hurling out of invective and counter-arguments to Scarpia, that expresses her determination. In particular, their dialogue in Act Two thrills, with its fiery urgency. Freddie De Tommaso projects Cavaradossi’s famous set-pieces with classically honed, Italianate lyricism, but also carries that over to his terser exchanges within the work at large. ‘E lucevan le stelle’ moves due to its contrastingly inward, slower deliberation, also made aptly sombre by the carefully pallid accompaniment from the clarinet, so that De Tommaso is fully engaged with the drama rather than merely providing mellifluous vocalism.

Erwin Schrott also gives a notably nuanced account of Scarpia. Instead of simply growling the part – one of the vilest in all opera – he imbues it with some eloquence, even charm; but also tellingly uses a more speech-like delivery at other times, which less luridly – but still as surely – expresses his murderous calculations. The other roles are sung with clarity, especially Josef Jeongmeen Ahn’s spry Angelotti.

Daniel Oren conducts a performance that is well-synced with the drama in that it tends to be excitable and restless from the outset, and surges with passion when required, but is paced as necessary to make a more refined impact, not merely a sensational one. Some dark colours drawn from the woodwind also tell their own story effectively, often sounding as though they emanate from a score by Wagner. Tosca has been criticised for its histrionics and lack of subtlety (a ‘shabby little shocker’ according to Joseph Kerman) but this performance achieves an admirable balance between those bold theatrical effects (vulgar to some) and the sense of a tragic personal drama played out by two politically naive artists, caught up in the grinding wheel of history. 

Further performances to December 21

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