An iconic Tosca once again makes one giant leap.
She’s back! It seems like only yesterday that Floria Tosca last uttered those fateful words, ‘O Scarpia avanti a Dio’, before leaping off the battlements of Castel Sant’Angelo to her death. But following a hugely successful run of performances before Christmas, Puccini’s tale of lust, political shenanigans and betrayal has returned to the Covent Garden stage for a further five. The main reason for a third visit was to catch this production’s original diva, Angela Gheorghiu, adopting the mantle of the jealous, narcissistic, temperamental opera singer of Puccini’s opera here once again, by way of marking her 30 year association with the House.
On Tuesday night it was hard to work out whether the Romanian soprano was playing the character or herself – you don’t need to stretch the imagination too much when you see Tosca’s jealousy flare up towards her lover Cavaradossi in the first act, as she believes he’s painting, and therefore having an affair with, the Marchesa Attavanti. Her instruction before she leaves, ‘Ma falle gli occhi neri (But let her eyes be black ones)’ certainly takes on a couple of meanings the way in which Gheorghiu sings it – let’s hope she’s only referring to the painting.
In the second act, the cat and mouse game with Michael Volle’s down at heel, creepily repellent, yet gloriously sung Scarpia was certainly edge of the seat stuff. The look on her face when she spies the knife on his desk, and realises that is her ticket out of there, speaks volumes, and she dispatches him with relish. Her final duet with Cavaradossi becomes even more heart breaking – highlighting her naivety in believing Scarpia to be a man of his word – but we, and Cavaradossi, know exactly how this is going to end.
“…Puccini’s tale of lust, political shenanigans and betrayal has returned to the Covent Garden stage…”
Vocally this has always been a stretch for her essentially lyrical voice. Puccini wrote it with a dramatic spinto in mind, but previously she managed to convince by cleverly negotiating her way around it – the odd clipped phrase here, and occasional gasped breath there – but the intervening years since she last sang the role here in 2016 have not been kind to the voice. Bumpy phrasing, and strained high notes marred the first act, while sagging pitch and tuning problems plagued her throughout the evening. ‘Vissi d’arte’ was effortful rather than heartbreaking. Having grown up admiring her gloriously lyrical voice in roles such as Mimì (La Bohème), Liù (Turandot) and Violetta (La Traviata), this pale facsimile of her former self was disappointing to behold. It’s only fair to say her fans were out in force, applauding her first appearance (tacky), and giving her a rousing reception at the final curtain, but still not as vociferous as the one they afforded her Cavaradossi, Stefan Pop.
What could have turned into a one-woman show, didn’t – indeed the evening’s saving grace was the strength of the casting of the other two protagonists. Volle’s dishevelled appearance as the lascivious Chief of Police belied his strong, firm baritone voice which was in fine fettle – rattling the rafters in the first act’s Te Deum, and singing with allure, power, and fervour in the second. Stefan Pop may not have the most individual tenor voice ever to have graced Jonathan Kent’s staging, but he pulled out all the stops and delivered a ringing ‘Recondita armonia’ at the start and capped his performance with a poignant, lovingly phrased ‘E luceven le stella’. All the comprimarios, Angelotti (Chuma Sijega), Sacristan (Alexander Köpeczi), and Spoletta (Aled Hall), were excellent.
Conductor Marcello Armiliato is a seasoned Tosca conductor, and perfectly caught the score’s ebb and flow. He was considerate to his singers and secured idiomatic playing from the orchestra.
• This production runs until 22 February, and details can be found here.