Tosca, with Gheorghiu, Kaufmann, and Terfel, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, July 2011Posted on 15 July 2011
The orchestra, under brilliant direction by Antonio Pappano, started with a bang and the tension kept up throughout. Lukas Jakobski made a strong entrance as the escaped prisoner Angelotti, and as he left, Jeremy White came on as a humble Sacristan followed by a madding crowd of children. All very good theatre, before Cavaradossi enters, climbs to his platform, and takes up his paints. Then as I was beginning to daydream I was pulled up short by the voice of a god — Jonas Kaufmann launching into Recondita armonia. This was . . . . well, words fail me. The performance suddenly hit a higher level. Kaufmann was fabulous, well matched by Angela Gheorghiu as Tosca, showing superb quiet notes. This was a woman in love with Cavaradossi, rather than a prima donna, and she kept up the almost understated portrayal throughout. It was very effective.
In this Jonathan Kent production, Act I takes place on two levels and towards the end of the act, as Scarpia is singing near the Attavanti chapel, a crowd of people enter at the upper level. The lighting design by Mark Henderson works particularly well here, and watching the congregation, I noticed the bishop cross himself in time to the music. It’s only a small detail, but getting the details right help a performance come to life — and this was a performance to treasure.
Bryn Terfel’s portrayal of Scarpia showed him to be a thoroughly nasty piece of work, and at the start of Act II we see a man determined to pursue his prey, even though he serves a regime that’s about to fall to Napoleon’s forces. His soliloquies were beautifully delivered, yet when Spoletta — strongly sung by Hubert Francis — enters, Scarpia’s aggressive nature reasserts itself as he knocks the fellow over. Act II swept forward, and the dragging off of Cavaradossi after his Vittoria! Vittoria! was a hugely powerful moment. There were also lovely moments of silence, which helped raise the tension, such as when Ms. Gheorghiu launched into Vissi d’arte. After her beautiful rendering of this aria, Scarpia gave her a slow handclap — a nice touch. Her killing of him, her movements and her placing of the candles, was perfect and I had to remind myself this is an opera and she’s actually gearing everything to musical cues. It all seemed so real I wanted to tell her to get a move on and get away.
With E lucevan le stelle in Act III, Kaufmann started calmly, but by the time he hit the last line E non ho amato mai tanto la vita! (And never have I loved life so much!) his emotion flew from the stage to embrace the audience. The shots from the firing squad sounded like hell, and after Tosca jumped to her death, Spoletta calmly walked forward as the curtain comes down. The menace is still there, and one urgently waits for Napoleon’s forces to arrive.
Pappano’s conducting was nothing short of superb, and a more emotional evening one could not wish for. But one small thing occurred to me during Act I, a mere quibble with the libretto, and I only mention it for Tosca buffs. When Tosca and Cavaradossi agree to meet later she sings E luna piena (the moon is full), but Sardou sets his play specifically on 17 June 1800 when Napoleon’s forces have just won the battle of Marengo. Full moon was on 7 June that year, so the moon would be in the last quarter and have risen only an hour or two before dawn. Yes, I know . . . it’s artistic license, but I’ve never seen this mentioned before, so I thought it worth a comment.
There are only two performances with this cast, so beg, borrow or steal to get a ticket for the final performance on June 17 when the present run of Tosca will close — for more details click here.