Finally, because the first scheduled performance was cancelled, the Royal Opera House explaining that this very rare occurrence was caused by shortage of technical crew. That shortage was always on the cards. The government’s failure to support those in the creative arts during lockdown forced many with transferrable skills into new roles. Whose home didn’t want an electrician or a carpenter to do a job long overdue?
Still, an opening performance there was, with a promising cast: Russian soprano Elena Stikhana making her house debut in the title role, reliable American tenor Bryan Hymel as Tosca’s artist lover Cavaradossi, and Russian baritone as the lustful chief of police Scarpia.
Elena Stikhina in the title role of Tosca, tormented by Scarpia (Alexey Markov). Photo: Tristram Kenton
Jonathan Kent’s production has been a hit since its premiere in 2006. With the landmark buildings of Rome apparently at actual size in Paul Brown's design – baroque Sant' Andrea della Valle, the Palazzo Farnese, Castel Sant' Angelo – its characters need their forceful characters to cut through.
As Cavaradossi shepherds an escaped political prisoner to safety, his chances of disappearing in this vast city seem good. But there are spies everywhere. Tortured for collaborating, Cavaradossi begs Tosca not to give away his friend, with terrible consequences for both.
And so to the two tenors. In the first act, it was clear that Hymel was not totally well, and as the curtain rose on act two, the big surprise. British-born tenor Freddie De Tommaso, due to sing other performances in this run, stepped into the role with tremendous aplomb, his Cavaradossi impressively wrung out as though by persecution and not, as it may have been, the rigours of hightailing it to Covent Garden on the No 15 bus.
The brilliant young tenor Freddie De Tommaso came to the rescue on opening night. Photo: Craig Gibson
This was a very, very exciting, albeit accidental, house debut in a major role. With his Italian heritage (but raised in Tunbridge Wells), De Tommaso is completely at home in this important role, at once every inch the principled friend, mischievous artist and committed lover.
The first British tenor to sing the role at Covent Garden since 1963, and the youngest ever to sing the role here, he is due to appear again on 11, 14 and 17 Dec. Catch him if you can, because if he can sing like this at only 28, who knows what lies ahead? Next year he sings more Puccini, as Pinkerton in the ROH's Madama Butterfly.
Stikhina, totally composed at being in love with a brand new Caravadossi one hour in, was also making her house debut. Her voice glows as brightly as the flickering candles that illuminate her dangerous encounter with predatory Scarpia, the prayerful ‘Vissi d’arte’ – I lived for art –heartbreaking. She has been a kind person, dedicated to music: why has she been rewarded with sexual abuse?
Tosca is trapped in Rome's Palazzo Farnese. Photo: Tristram Kenton
Alexey Markov’s Scarpia felt a little underpowered and ordinary in the face of these two powerpacks, a bully powered by insignificance. Italian baritone Claudio Sgura, who sings the role at other performances, proves more terrifying by far. His act two seduction of Tosca, sung in this other cast by the magnificent Anna Pirozzi, is pure opera gold.
Also exciting was the house debut of Ukrainian conductor Oksana Lyniv, drawing from the Orchestra of the Royal Opera beguiling solo work and, in contrast to the surging menace, intimacy on the scale of chamber music. Next month she starts as music director at the Teatro Commuale di Bologna. Let’s hope she pops over here often, Brexit permitting.
But Brexit, of course, doesn’t permit much in the way of international exchange, as musicians and players know to their cost. The Rome of Tosca is a graphic example of a regime that fears, despises and blocks its artists. There is nothing dated about an opera premiered in 1900.
Tosca is sung in Italian with English surtitles. Further performances are on 11, 14, 15, 17, 19 and 22 Dec. The performance on 15 Dec is screened at cinemas capital- and worldwide. Click here to find a screening near you
|What||Tosca review, Royal Opera House|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
08 Dec 21 – 22 Dec 21, eight performances, start times vary. Running time c3hr with two intervals
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|