Tosca with Opolais, Lee and Volle, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, 20 March 2013Posted on 21 March 2013
In this new cast, Kristine Opolais and Yonghoon Lee complemented Michael Volle, who has sung Scarpia all this month at Covent Garden. From my previous experience of him in other bass-baritone roles (from Salome to Aida) he more than lived up to expectations, but it was Yonghoon Lee as Cavaradossi who was the new find of the evening.
From his Recondita armonia in Act I to his final moments in Act III this man was a revelation. His passion for Tosca was palpable, and after his glorious E lucevan le stelle in Act III, which he started very quietly and gently, he grasped at her when she appears with the safe conduct. Unlike the usual plump tenors, Yonghoon Lee is admirably slim, and he used his body to great effect. His Vittoria in Act II was the outburst of a committed young artist, his whole body showing passionate commitment, and emphasising the brutal mendacity of a police chief in the dying days of a lost regime. Then in the late moments of Act III standing with his back to the audience while the soldiers fire, he crumpled, his life blown away like the flame of a candle.
As Scarpia the police chief, Michael Volle’s characterisation and voice came over with huge power. From the dramatic sweep of his entrance in Act I to his grasp of a prize that eludes him and suddenly kills him in Act II, this was a great performance. Standing on the lower level near the Attavanti chapel in Act I you can see him thinking, and as the act closes his determination against the forces of the orchestra below, and of God on the upper level, came through with a certainty of success. Then in Act II as he moves into Ha più forte, expressing his relish for a violent conquest rather than soft surrender, we witness the dark forces impelling this man to destroy the individual liberty. When Kristine Opolais as Tosca kills him she does so with despatch, and her anxiety for the safe conduct and placing of the candles was beautifully done. She acted the entire role with great conviction, but vocally seemed not yet ideally suited to the heady drama of Tosca.
Among smaller roles, Jeremy White made a fine Sacristan, and among small matters of production, the slow steps of the firing squad in perfect time to the music, and Spoletta’s putting an arm out to stop the captain of the guard delivering a finishing shot, show great care for detail by revival director Andrew Sinclair.
This whole performance was a treat, but what really raised its level, apart from the singers, was Maurizio Benini in the orchestra pit. His conducting of Puccini’s wonderful score generated huge emotion, with gloriously powerful sounds from the orchestra at moments such as the point in Act I just before Tosca’s exit, and in Act II when Tosca finally realises what is going on in the other room, and in the crescendo as Scarpia presses her and she screams for the torture to stop.
This was a knock-out, and the vocal characterisations by Yonghoon Lee and Michael Volle are not to be missed. Unfortunately performances with this cast are sold out, but further ones with Serafin, Antonenko and Hendricks under the baton of Daniel Oren take place in July — for details click here.