Five years ago there was apprehension when the Royal Opera announced that it was disposing of its classic Zeffirelli production of Tosca, the one that can be seen in the historic film with Maria Callas. Now its successor is also going to be filmed and an all-star cast is being assembled especially for the last two performances of this revival.
Handsome and traditional, Jonathan Kent’s 2006 production should look good on film. Set in the Napoleonic era, it manages to suggest the same real-life Rome locations used by most other productions, while providing touches of its own – Scarpia occupying a sinister corner of the church in the first act and a fashionable minimalism to the roof-top view of Castel Sant’Angelo in the last.
The constant throughout is the dominating conducting of Antonio Pappano. The sound Pappano likes in Puccini is red-blooded, not to say hearty, but the orchestra can rarely have played the score better. Details such as the stabbing accents as Tosca examines the fan of her supposed rival hit home with deadly force and the stifling atmosphere of Scarpia’s den of vice hung heavy in playing thick with sickly lyricism.
The cast for June’s performances is decent, if hardly memorable. The role of Tosca takes Martina Serafin to her limit vocally, and her voice at times turned hard when pushed, but she rose fearlessly to all the big moments. How potently, too, she uses the words. Marcello Giordani’s ringing Cavaradossi was less good at poetry – the dreamy lines of the condemned man’s solo failed to go as planned – than at rip-roaring power. His cries of “Vittoria!” were loud enough to rouse Napoleon himself from the dead.
The newcomer to the cast was the Scarpia of Finnish bass-baritone Juha Uusitalo, who did not live up to the high praise for his Wagnerian appearances around Europe. Some clean, well-focused singing failed to compensate for a general shortage of menace and a voice that did not quite ride the sensation-seeking roar of Pappano’s orchestra – even when a technical hitch meant the organ failed to join in the “Te Deum”. Please note: those who have booked for the July performances will get a different, more starry cast.