Last Updated on February 9, 2022
Drama rules the stage in the all-star cast of this Royal Opera House hit:
The third and final cast for the Royal Opera House’s Tosca is here and with Angela Gheorghiu reprising the opera’s lead role, opposite Stefan Pop as Cavaradossi, audiences are in for a treat. This is the tenth revival of Johnathan Kent’s Tosca, first performed in 2006, so we know what we are in for, only this time with the opera superstars.
Tosca is set during the Italian campaigns of the French Revolutionary Wars and the drama employs a precise frame of historical reference. In 1799, French forces, which had established Rome as a republic, withdrew from the city. Rome was quickly occupied by troops belonging to the Kingdom of Naples, bringing the city once again under the control of the papal states. Napoleon tried to grab control of central Italy but was met by Austrian forces in Piedmont, resulting in the Battle of Marengo on the 14th June 1800. At first, Austrian forces were seen to be winning, and word was sent to Rome about their successes, however, French reinforcements arriving later defeated the exhausted Austrian army, and seized Rome. Set very specifically between the afternoon of the 17th June 1800 and early the following morning, the events in Tosca follow the information sent to Rome of the battle. The opera’s twists and turns revolve around allegiances to the republic or the papal states, and the love of the tragic heroine, Floria Tosca.
True to the opera’s original setting, Kent’s vision for Tosca vacillates between historically accurate symbolism and torture chambers behind bookcases. Though perhaps a tad ostentatious, the dark academia vibes only add to the opera’s famed drama. Act I opens on the polished church of Sant’Andrea Della Valle, where Cesare Angelotti (Chuma Sijeqa), former consul of the Roman Republic turned political escapee, flees to his private chapel. In a series of unfortunate events, the mural painter, Mario Cavaradossi (Stefan Pop), agrees to help Angelotti escape the clutches of the chief of police, Baron Scarpia (Michael Volle). Cavaradossi’s lover, the renowned singer Floria Tosca (Angela Gheorghiu), comes to find him in the chapel, but she notices his suspicious behaviour and accuses him of adultery. From here on, the couple find themselves accidentally embroiled in a political crime which is made only worse by Scarpia’s growing lust for Tosca. At the risk of ruining the entire plot, manipulation, deceit, love, and tyranny reign.
Celebrating thirty years at Covent Garden, Gheorghiu brings a certain reserve to the role of Floria Tosca. Gheorghiu has a reputation as an imposing presence and in her overall performance the command of herself and over other characters on stage was evident, but there was a sense that she was reserving her voice. This was proved in those moments in which her voice soared across the auditorium with the clarity of struck bell in the fan favourite Vissi D’Arte in Act II. Certainly, this reserve and release added spine-tingling melodramatic moments to the show, but perhaps I was expecting more sustained guts and a brighter tone. Truly though, this is operatic nit-picking. Gheorghiu, above everything else, is an absolutely mesmerising performer, as brilliant now as I imagine she was thirty years ago in her first ROH appearance as Mimi in Puccini’s La Boheme. She is well-matched by both Stefan Pop’s Cavaradossi and Michael Volle’s Scarpia.
Conductor Marco Armiliato carried the orchestra well throughout the drama. His control over the chorus scenes was particularly impressive, as were the choruses themselves. I especially enjoyed the contrast between the celebration of papal victory, initiated by the Sacristan (Alexander Köpeczi) in the first act, and the ominous shift once Scarpia arrives. Armiliato always managed to maintain the right level of sound from the orchestra whilst showing off Puccini’s swells in the dramatic bits – superb.
I have only one major quarrel with this production – the train on Tosca’s dress in Acts II and III. I am almost prepared to declare the costume the most annoying in operatic history, but I won’t go that far. Aside from the fact that at one point the train got stuck on a loose floorboard and almost sent the incomparable Angela Gheorghiu flying backward, at which point Tosca had to lug what looked like enough fabric to cover the orchestra with her throughout the rest of the opera. Although, admittedly, it looked brilliant in Act III, as Tosca runs across the parapet to flee the clutches of soldiers.
Currently both upstairs and downstairs at the Royal Opera House, you can experience the story of a woman forced to question whether she will give herself to another man to save a loved one. In both cases, the only real answer is to knife the bad guy before any nefarious activities can take place, unsuccessfully in Bajazet, but really quite successfully in Tosca. In truth, I’m thoroughly enjoying the ROH’s commitment to showing operas with highly capable and courageous female leads. It brings a nice change from some of the frailer female roles, beautiful parts though they are, the tuberculosis twins Violetta and Mimi spring to mind. Of course, this could be entirely coincidental, or the ROH creative team may have just decided that what the public really need after the pandemic is some good old-fashioned operatic violence.
On the 15th of February The Royal Opera House is running a Young ROH night, dedicated solely to 16 to 25 year olds. Signing up to the Young ROH takes less than a minute and is completely free of charge. With the offer of £25 tickets for some of the best seats in the house, there are few other deals in London I would recommend so highly, but this is an absolute bargain.
Tuesday 8 February 2022 19.30
Friday 11 February 2022 19.30
Tuesday 15 February 2022 19.30
Saturday 19 February 2022 19.30
Tuesday 22 February 2022 19.30
Royal Opera House,
London, WC2E 9DD
For more information and tickets click here.
Young ROH Signup: https://www.roh.org.uk/ticket-deals/young-roh