There are times when tradition triumphs, even in this age of minimalism. Tosca at Covent Garden is proof of that. This production positively creaks (it must be almost 30 years old) but it’s still wonderful. The sets are fabulous recreations of the Roman settings – the interiors of the church Sant’Andrea delle Valle and the Palazzo Farnese, and then the massive tower at the top of the Castel Sant’Angelo.
Few productions could afford such sets today, even if the mood had not swung away from such literal representations. The climax at the end of Act 1 is still a stunning coup de theatre, from the first appearance of Scarpia, the sinister and corrupt Chief of Police, through the gradual build as the stage fills with assorted clergy, choirboys and congregation, to the shattering final chords of the Te Deum.
The current cast is the second this season, the original pairing of Catherine Malfitano as Floria Tosca and Roberto Alagna as Cavaradossi having received surprisingly poor reviews. Maria Guleghina is super as the new Tosca, combining great power with sweetness in the voice and making a convincing heroine. This is despite the fact that Giuseppe Giacomini gave her little to react to – it was obvious from his very first bar that his voice was hanging by a thread, and sure enough he was forced to withdraw through illness after the second act. Luckily the American tenor Antonio Nagore (who sang the role at one performance in September) wasn’t otherwise occupied and managed to reach the theatre in time for the third act. He has an ideal voice for the part and stepped admirably into the breach, making it all the more obvious what had been lacking in the preceding acts.
And so to Scarpia, arguably the most interesting character in the opera. Anthony Michaels-Moore is, for me, just too nice for the part. He has a glorious voice (though perhaps lacking a little in force at times) but it really could do with a harder edge for Scarpia, and makeup could have helped to disguise his thoroughly decent, honest face.
All in all, a mixed evening musically, but a production that has to be seen at least once in a while – if only to provide a reference point for ‘modern’ interpretations – and certainly must be seen before it is finally laid to rest.
The new cast in February (Nelly Miricioiu as Tosca, Vladimir Galouzine as Cavaradossi, and the German bass-baritone Albert Dohmen making his ROH debut as Scarpia) is one to watch. Dohmen replaces Bryn Terfel, who was to sing his first Scarpia at Covent Garden but has withdrawn from all operatic performances between December 2000 and April 2001, for family reasons.