Few role debuts have been more eagerly anticipated than Jonas Kaufmann’s in Tosca and he did not disappoint. His first-ever Cavaradossi is sensational and lifts the Royal Opera’s otherwise dreary production to another plane. This was the second revival of Jonathan Kent’s crusty-old production of Puccini’s shabby little shocker, but to say it looks older than its two years is an understatement.
I guess the decision to replace the 40 year old Zeffirelli production with something equally antiquated was with an eye firmly focussed on the box office, as opposed to contemporary dramaturgy. To radicalise this of all operas would have been a step too far. Admittedly it didn’t help that I’d watched the excellent Dutch National Opera’s production by Nikolaus Lehnhoff on DVD a few days previously. His was a production alive with theatricality that made this dreary offering at Covent Garden look well past its sell-by date.
Paul Brown’s sets dwarf the singers whilst Mark Henderson’s miserable crepuscular lighting shrouds the whole show in stygian gloom. It’s strange that the designs for the first two acts are slavishly traditional yet by Act 3, abstraction is the order of the day. The slab of marble at the back of the stage is presumably one of St Michael’s wings but I couldn’t be sure. It certainly seems that money and interest ran out or we’d have had an exact replica of Peter Anton von Vershaffelt’s St Michael.
I hope that every time the management wheels out this production from now on, they cast it as strongly as they have done this time round. Paolo Gavenelli is a scrupulously musical Scarpia who’s not afraid to take risks with his voice. There’s plenty of light and shade which make his character all the more malevolent and it’s a joy to hear him relish the Italian text as only a native speaker can.
As the flighty diva, Micaela Carosi made a strong impression in her house debut. There’s plenty of metal in the voice and she has the makings of a true spinto in the grand Scotto tradition. True the voice can be slightly unwieldy at the top but she certainly has all the requisite vocal goods, more than can be said for previous incumbents of the role in this house. Let’s hope she returns soon as sopranos like this don’t grow on trees.
Overshadowing the other principals was the exceptionally-gifted young German tenor Jonas Kaufmann who, in his role debut as Cavaradossi, brought the house down with a consistent flood of glorious tone and ringing high notes that would put most of his Italian colleagues to shame. His rendition of Recondita armonia gave us notice that this was going to be his night. Beautiful phrasing, ringing high notes his cries of Vittoria in Act Two made your hair stand on end – and he capped his performance with a heart-breaking E lucevan le stelle. He was rightly awarded the biggest ovation of the evening. Let’s hope he makes the Royal Opera his second home.
Antonio Pappano kept things moving along in the pit and the orchestra rewarded him with alert playing. Great singing, shame about the staging.