First staged in 2006 with Sir Bryn Terfel as the terrifying chief of police Scarpia, it is back at the Royal Opera House to help close this year's season, and returns again in the 2019/20 programme (6-15 July 2020), again with Terfel. By then this solid, sumptuous production will be into its 15th year, and it is, like the rest of us, only improving with age.
A whole generation could grow up with this Tosca as its benchmark production. If you have never seen it, step right up for an evening of dizzyingly brilliant music, powerful theatre and towering orchestral playing. If you already have this Tosca ticked off your to-do list, go back – the more you see it the better it gets. With Paul Brown's stupendous set and Mark Henderson's expressive lighting, this is a musical and visual feast.
Sant'Andrea della Valle, Rome, in Paul Brown's set for Tosca at Covent Garden. Photo: Catherine Ashmore
Terfel, taking up residence at Covent Garden as Scarpia and immediately afterwards in the title role of Boris Godunov, is on searing form. Taking advantage of his great height, his bullying character has only to approach to induce fear, but his toying with a little ribbon can be as threatening.
Both pious and lascivious, Scarpia takes advantage of his precarious power at the politically troubled beginning of the 19th century to satisfy his obsession with the opera singer Floria Tosca. When her lover, the painter Cavaradossi, harbours an escaped political prisoner, Scarpia offers to trade the artist's life and a safe passage out of Rome for sex with Tosca. Both parties break the deal, one after the other, with actions that never fail to shock.
But Terfel's performance is not just about terrorising others: the advance of Napoleon casts its own shadow over his violent domination. He falters with the knowledge that his days too are numbered. This is vintage Terfel. Marco Vratogna, who was thrillingly horrid as Iago in Otello in 2017, sings the equally vile Scarpia at later performances.
Bryn Terfel as the terrifying Scarpia in Tosca. Photo: Catherine Ashmore
Kent's Tosca evolves as singers come and go. And here is the house role debut as Cavaradossi of the Italian tenor Vittorio Grigòlo. Impish and athletic (Cavaradossis come in all shapes and sizes), he teases from his perch while completing a religious work for the church, as skittish as he is brave, in sheltering the rebel. As a boy, Grigòlo made his operatic debut in Tosca for Rome Opera, as the Act Three Shepherd Boy.
That hauntingly sweet role, sung valiantly and freshly on first night by Joshua Abrams, is part of the dawn landscape in music that Puccini paints with all the colours in Cavaradossi's palette. Alexander Joel, conducting the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House and Royal Opera Chorus, ekes every last drop out of the drama with some lingering tempi, but this largely instrumental passage is both beautiful and shot through with suspense.
Tosca (Kristine Opolais) and Cavaradossi (Vittorio Grigòlo). Photo: Catherine Ashmore
Later in the run, star soprano Angela Gheorghiu will be singing the title role, but opening night belonged to the Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais, whose glamour, power and theatricality is captivating. She rips through the music balanced on a dagger's blade between singing and exclamation, her cries of despair coming from the heart.
There is sterling work too from Jonathan Lemalu as the Sacristan and rising bass-baritone Michael Mofidian as the escapee Angelotti. Truly a vintage cast all round in what is becoming a vintage production, in the best sense of the word.
Tosca is sung in Italian with English surtitles. Performances are on 30 May; 4, 7, 10, 15, 17, 20 June; seats are available. The production returns to Covent Garden 6-15 July 2020; public booking opens 9AM, 15 April 2020
|What||Tosca review, Royal Opera House|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
27 May 19 – 20 Jun 19, eight performances; times vary. Running time c3hr, including two intervals
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|