The Royal Opera – Tosca [Serafin, Giordani, Uusitalo, Pappano]

Tosca – Opera in three acts to a libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa & Luigi Illica based on Victorien Sardou’s play La Tosca [sung in Italian with English surtitles]

Mario Cavaradossi – Marcello Giordani
Floria Tosca – Martina Serafin
Baron Scarpia – Juha Uusitalo
Cesare Angelotti – Lukas Jakobski
Sacristan – Jeremy White
Spoletta – Hubert Francis
Sciarrone – ZhengZhong Zhou
Shepherd Boy – William Payne
Gaoler – John Morrissey

Trinity Boys’ Choir
Royal Opera Chorus

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Antonio Pappano

Jonathan Kent – Director
Duncan Macfarland – Revival Director
Paul Brown – Designer
Mark Henderson – Lighting Designer

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 7 June, 2011
Venue: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

Marcello Giordani as Cavaradossi, Martina Serafin as Tosca,  Hubert Francis as Spoletta & Juha Uusitalo as Scarpia (Tosca, The Royal Opera, June 2011). Photograph: Catherine AshmoreThis Jonathan Kent production of Tosca, created in 2006 for Angela Gheorghiu’s debut as the eponymous heroine, was as gloomy and fussy as it always has been on this ‘first night’ of its fourth revival. Whilst some aspects of Act One are forgivably manic (the first entrance of the choirboys, which prompts Scarpia’s first line – a reprimand to them), it was uncomfortable watching Tosca fret about during Act Two in her long evening gown (which itself looked rather drab), and, generally, with characters dashing about, it all became wearisome and detracted from their interplay: Tosca’s eventual hatred of Scarpia was muted, and Scarpia’s evil nature was petulant rather than ruthless; the off-stage torture of Cavaradossi was lame, too.

Not so the musical performance that Antonio Pappano elicited from his Orchestra, which was terrific. He explored the music’s darker side – the opening chords, for Scarpia, were full of menace and signalling ultimate tragedy. There was some gorgeous woodwind-playing in the heart-rending moment of Tosca’s realisation that she must commit a grave crime to save her lover.Marcello Giordani as Cavaradossi & Martina Serafin as Tosca (Tosca, The Royal Opera, June 2011). Photograph: Catherine AshmoreTosca was sung fabulously by Martina Serafin. This is a Tosca to believe in: jealous, eloquent, noble, and, ultimately, defiant. Her voice was secure and potent, a superb match to Pappano’s vision. ‘Vissi d’arte’ (I live for art), Tosca’s pleading to God, was beautifully sung, time standing still as she communicated with Him. The spell was horribly broken with the audience’s applause, and having Scarpia respond with a slow hand-clap then does not work; this should be a moment between Tosca and God only. The tragedy of Tosca’s predicament was very moving: her pleading with Cavaradossi to stay motionless after what she believes to be his mock execution was touching.

Juha Uusitalo as Scarpia (Tosca, The Royal Opera, June 2011). Photograph: Catherine AshmoreThe Scarpia of Juha Uusitalo was under-sung and Marcello Giordani seemed only able to screech the high notes; by Act Three his voice was worn out. Jeremy White’s Sacristan was underpowered, and unfortunately played as a bumbling fool (sadly a common way for directing old men in operas). As the Shepherd Boy William Payne was lovely to hear against the orchestral calm-before-the-storm backdrop.

This revival is worth catching to hear Serafin’s vivid portrayal and Pappano’s charismatic conducting. I wonder what happened to the originally scheduled Tosca of Karita Mattila, though.

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