The second cast of Covent Garden’s Tosca lives up to the first.
Our plan was to catch both casts in The Royal Opera’s current revival of Tosca. But it didn’t quite work out that way. The first night’s Cavaradossi, Bryan Hymel, only managed the first act due to a severe cold. He was replaced for the remainder of the performance by British tenor Freddie de Tommaso from the second cast – who wasn’t scheduled to make his role debut until a few days later. As we reported, he was sensational, so we couldn’t wait to pay a return visit to see him sing the entire role. But the operatic gods were not shining on us. Hymel’s continued indisposition meant he had to withdraw from the remaining performances, resulting in Italian tenor Riccardo Massi being flown in to take his place. As De Tommaso was promoted to the cast which was performing in the live broadcast on December 15, it meant he couldn’t sing at this performance – no tenor could be expected to sing the role on two consecutive evenings – so Massi stepped in once more.
The initial disappointment at not seeing De Tomasso’s complete Cavaradossi, soon faded away as Massi really delivered the goods, and was as convincing dramatically as he was musically. It helped that he had appeared in this staging in 2014, 2016 and 2018, but we weren’t prepared for the full-blooded, thrilling singing he brought to the role. Once past a slight cloudiness of tone to begin with, he pulled out all the stops and delivered a ringing account of ‘Recondita armonia’, while his cries of ‘Vittoria’ pinned us to the back of our seats in Act II. He gave a melting account of ‘E lucevan le stelle’ in the last act, setting the seal on an a highly accomplished performance.
“…Massi really delivered the goods, and was as convincing dramatically as he was musically”
He was matched note for note by Anna Pirozzi’s vividly intense Tosca – embodying the title role to perfection. With glints of steel in the voice, she was commanding in the high lying passages, yet able to refine her impressive instrument down to a whisper, allowing her to deliver a spellbinding account of ‘Vissi d’arte’. The real excitement in this pivotal act came from her confrontation with Claudio Sgura’s imposing thug of a Scarpia. There wasn’t a whiff of respectability to his characterisation, and the deadly cat and mouse game he played with Tosca certainly got the pulses racing. He also sang spectacularly well, with enough volume to ride Act I’s closing Te Deum. In fact, we’d go as far as saying he’s the finest exponent of the role at this address since Bryn Terfel.
And what a rare treat to have three native Italian speakers in all three main roles – giving as much weight and importance to the text, as the musical line. When was the last time this happened here? Setting the seal on this sterling performance was Oksana Lyniv’s vivid conducting – even more assured than the first night. A thrilling evening.