Director Jonathan Kent's Rome is the one we still see today – and the one that the establishment and the rebels quarrelled in at the dawn of the 19th century, which is so lavishly re-created here. But within the Baroque splendour of Sant' Andrea della Valle, the Palazzo Farnese and the Castel Sant'Angelo, is played out a story of coercion with timeless relevance: a powerful man uses his position to seduce the singer Floria Tosca, who relents only because her lover's life is in his hands.
The menace and cruelty of this dangerous time, when harbouring a rebel means certain death, is brought out with extra chills by the conducting of Dan Ettinger and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House on tip-top form. Architectural and magisterial, but also tingling with suspense, this reading of Puccini's power-packed score made every familiar phrase sound freshly minted from the first, terrifying chords. With Paul Brown's stupendous set and Mark Henderson's expressive lighting, the visual feast is substantial too.
Maltese tenor Joseph
Calleja, singing the first eight performances of
this revival, is really suited to the role of the painter Mario Cavaradossi: brave, determined and emboldened by love and honour, he throws weight behind the painter's big statements, the artistry of the character's metier converted into vivid vocal gestures.
As the suspicious and lustful chief of police, Scarpia, Canadian-born baritone Gerald Finley sings not with the bone-crushing depth that you often hear in this role, but with a layer of oil beneath his villainous black looks. Gussied up in a show-off uniform, any more frogging and he would be a pond.
In the title role, Canadian Adrianne Pieczonka triumphs as the opera singer who fizzes with jealousy when she suspects Mario is interested in another, attracts Scarpia's unwanted attentions and laments this fate, baffled, in her great aria 'Vissi d'arte'. Star soprano Angela Gheorghiu sings the role of Tosca in performances on 24 and 27 January, and Austrian Martina Serafin appears later in the run.
distinguished career as a Cavaradossi himself, the Spanish singer and conductor Placido Domingo conducts five later performances (17 Feb to 3 March).
The opening night was dedicated to Paul Brown, who died at 57 in September: he was responsible for some of the most exciting sets and costumes in London. Fortunately, his work outlives him, and new designs are yet to be revealed: look out for his lavish sets for English National Opera's Iolanthe soon.
For newcomers, Tosca
is always the perfect gateway opera – stuffed with music, fast-moving
and quite simply a nail-biter. With one of the most famous endings in opera, it shocks and moves
every time, and this enduring production has everything and more. Go, go, go.
Tosca is sung in Italian with English surtitles. The opera is relayed lived to cinemas across London on 7 February: click here for more details.
|What||Puccini's Tosca review , Royal Opera House|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
15 Jan 18 – 03 Mar 18, 13 performances, including three matinees
|Price||£8 - £195|
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|