Tosca, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, January 2018

From the ringing tones of his Recondita armonia in early Act I to the passion and pathos of E lucevan le stelle in a last cry to life and love, this was Joseph Calleja’s night. His Cavaradossi was the shining highlight of opening night in this revival of Jonathan Kent’s 2006 production.

All images ROH/ Catherine Ashmore

Tosca and Cavaradossi

Calleja’s interactions with the powerful Tosca of Adrianne Pieczonka gave to Act I a perfection reflected in the costumes and excellent re-staging. They looked and sang in perfect harmony. Her Vissi d’arte in Act II came over strongly but more as a set piece aria, rather than emerging organically from the pressure she is under, though the baton of Dan Ettinger, whose Verdi and Puccini has been welcomed before at the Royal Opera, fully emphasised this pressure and the orchestra carried her on glorious waves of sound in Act I. Unfortunately the Scarpia of Gerald Finley, his debut in the role, did not exhibit the menace and bass resonance that is often such a feature of this opera. His superb baritone is wonderful at delivering intelligent portrayals, and gave excellent expression to the police chief’s Act II credo of tasting whatever he wants and preferring violent conquest to soft surrender, but Scarpia’s brutishness was somewhat hidden, and power was lacking in the final scene of Act I where he competes with the chorus in the church.

Among lesser roles, Jeremy White showed excellent depth as the Sacristan, with Aled Hall giving a very strong account of Scarpia’s henchman Spoletta. In the final scene of Act I the chorus were terrific, and this is one of the glories of Jonathan Kent’s production with Scarpia at one level with choir and congregation at another. A hugely powerful setting designed by the late Paul Brown (memorialised in the cast list) it shows that in the Kingdom of Naples, before news of Napoleon’s victory emerges in Act II, the Church carries supreme authority.

Tosca and Scarpia

Lighting by Mark Henderson is beautifully recreated, and this revival under the excellent direction of Andrew Sinclair is superbly staged. Placing and movement of performers was expertly accomplished and the marching of the firing squad would have done credit to Her Majesty’s troops on a ceremonial occasion.

Tickets are still available to witness Calleja’s triumph in the role of Cavaradossi — not to be missed.

Performances continue with cast changes including three different Toscas, three Cavaradossis, two Scarpias and two Spolettas; the final performance with this cast will see a live cinema relay on February 7 — for details click here.

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