For the first time in nearly 60 years, two Brits star in the leading roles at the Royal Opera.
Tosca is back at The Royal Opera. Not that it’s ever really been away, as this was the 12th revival of Jonathan Kent’s 14 year old staging. Revived here by Simon Iorio, this latest incarnation may not have been the sharpest dramatically, but musically this was premier league stuff. There was a palpable sense of excitement in the Royal Opera House before curtain up, and it’s not hard to realize why. The tenor of the moment, Freddie de Tommaso, was returning to the role of Cavaradossi, whilst one of the most exciting singers to emerge from these shores over the last few years, Natalya Romaniw, was making her house debut in the title role.
For those of you who revel in operatic statistics, she was the first British soprano to essay the role at this address since Gwyneth Jones in the ‘70s, while the last time two Brits appeared on this stage in these roles was the ‘50s. So, history was being made. Having only caught two thirds of de Tommaso’s Cavaradossi last season – when he sensationally jumped in after the first act to replace the ailing tenor – the chance to see him perform the role in its entirety was not to be missed.
And he did not disappoint. ‘Recondita armonia’ was sung with full-throated gusto, his cries of ‘Vittoria’ in the second act pinned us all to the back of our seats, and he went on to cap his sensitively detailed performance with an ardently lyrical ‘E lucevan le stelle’. In the past there’s been a tendency to sing sharp when under pressure, but on Monday he was bang on the note throughout. It’s hard to imagine the role sung better these days.
“There was a palpable sense of excitement in the Royal Opera House before curtain up…”
As to be expected from such a hugely talented singer, Romaniw was nothing short of sensational in the title role. Firstly, she’s the real spinto deal. Not only can she spin exquisitely long phrases, but she also uses the steel in her voice to telling effect – her top notes had a laser-like quality and precision. Her formidable chest voice is linked effortlessly to the rest of her registers – rarely can Puccini’s vocal lines have been so impressively executed. ‘Vissi d’arte’ was delicate yet impassioned, and showed that Romaniw is prepared to take risks as well – not many sopranos could have pulled off such ppp dynamics. She is one of those rare artists whose potential seems boundless – let’s hope she becomes a regular fixture here.
As her nemesis, Erwin Schrott was a forceful Scarpia. His voice has grown in stature since I last heard him as Don Givoanni, and he impressed throughout with his vivid use of vocal colour. No doubt a lack of rehearsal time (this was the alternate cast in the run) led to some generalised interplay with Tosca in the second act, but even so – this was a mightily impressive performance.
Daniel Oren conducted with passion, was supportive of his singers and, despite a couple of sluggish passages, kept Puccini’s score moving. Although the orchestra can probably play this opera in its sleep, there was no sense of routine. Be quick though! There are only three more performances, on 15, 18 and 21 December.
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