Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Tosca @ Royal Opera House, London

9, 11, 12, 15, 18, 21, 25, 29 January, 2, 5 February 2016

Angela Gheorghiu & Riccardo Massi(Photo: Catherine Ashmore)

Angela Gheorghiu & Riccardo Massi (Photo: Catherine Ashmore)

“Ooh, isn’t she marvellous?”

“Yes, there’s just no one to touch her.”

“And how does she move in that dress? Amazing.”

Thus the chatter in the Ladies’ loo queue, and although we’re not quite so inclined to superlatives, they were not all that far off the mark. Angela Gheorghiu ‘created’ the role of Floria Tosca in terms of this 2006 Jonathan Kent production, and she has since returned in some of its seven revivals, this time singing in five of the ten performances, the others featuring Amanda Echalaz. Strong casting of the diva is obviously essential, and as we’ve previously remarked Gheorghiu is the jealous, coquettish, passionate, capricious, melodramatic heroine at the opera’s centre. Vissi d’arte might not quite have deserved the bellows of “Brava!” which followed it, but her singing was generally as vibrant and committed as her acting.

Riccardo Massi’s Cavaradossi is not new to this production, so his tentative first aria was a surprise and possibly indicative of a cold, although he belted out a convincing Vittoria! and a finely shaped E lucevan le stelle. He is not a particularly dashing cavalier and his tone tends towards the plaintive, sometimes sounding a little clouded in the lower part of the voice, but his ‘O dolce mani’ was tenderly and musically phrased.

Angela Gheorghiu(Photo: Catherine Ashmore)

Angela Gheorghiu
(Photo: Catherine Ashmore)

It’s no easy task to make your house debut in a role in which another singer has made so strong an impression, so it’s much to Samuel Youn’s credit that he did not try to imitate Bryn Terfel’s magisterial, definitive Scarpia. Youn’s voice is on the light side for the role, and his interpretation is less menacing than some, but any worries that his restrained singing during the Te Deum might suggest a less than full tone for the second act were swiftly contradicted by his emphatic singing in his interactions with Tosca.

As always, the ROH has done the smaller roles proud, with Donald Maxwell’s lovable, crusty Sacristan equalled by Yuiry Yurchuk’s finely haunted Angelotti, Hubert Francis’ all-too-convincing Spoletta and Harry Fetherstonhaugh’s sweet-toned Shepherd Boy. The ROH Chorus made the most of its short appearance, coached as ever into superb unity by Renato Balsadonna. Emmauel Villaume, the Music Director of Dallas Opera, conducted with plenty of fire, those menacing introductory notes just about as blazing as we’ve ever heard them, and he coaxed superb playing from the strings.

The production has been crisply revived by Andrew Sinclair, with Paul Brown’s lovingly detailed designs and Mark Henderson’s atmospheric lighting as impressive as ever. Those grandiose sets, especially Scarpia’s chamber with its dominant ‘brass’ statue, and the Castel Sant’Angelo overshadowed by a star-studded sky, are as much a part of the production’s enduring success as Tosca’s appearance after her ‘performance,’ dripping in jewellery yet as inaccessible to Scarpia as the moon which he keeps trying to shut out of the chamber.

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