The Royal Opera, 2021. Photos by Tristram Kenton
Jonathan Kent’s production of “Tosca” for Covent Garden has its tenth cover, under the direction of Oksana Lyniv. It’s a regular device and a bestseller – although this particular race has faced two dramas before.
First, the cancellation of the first opening night due to a lack of stagehands and technical personnel (COVID emptied the sector of vital personnel who could not make a living while the theaters were closed).
Second, star tenor Bryan Hymel has a chill in his head, which has forced him to cut his losses after a hectic and laborious first act – most unusual for a tenor renowned for his lyrical quality and endurance in the large repertoire. French meaty – to be replaced by Freddie de Tommaso from the other cast mid-show. âEcco an artist! Tosca says in the heyday of the opera, as Cavaradossi collapses (in fact) dead, and there is no doubt that the professionalism and cold blood Tommaso showed up, both vocally and dramatically, on such short notice.
Imposing historical fiction
Kent’s dazzling production is decidedly in historical fictional territory – sparkling dresses, bold grand settings and naturalism reign supreme. Indeed, Paul Brown’s towering designs are so verism that they are apparently on the scale of the real places in which the opera takes place (Sant’Andrea della Valle, Palazzo Farnese, etc.)
It’s the opulence and atmosphere all down below, whether it’s in the dictatorial excavations of Scarpia or the climax of the act one filled with incense behind the door and the gilded icon of the chapel, a reflection faithful to the way this production operates primarily as a flagship vehicle. A huge statue of Hercules dominates the set of act two – it’s a brilliant grand opera for even bigger voices, here revived by Amy Lane. This is perhaps the loudest, sleekest, and most understated moment – a soldier washes and dresses on the ramparts as Act Three opens as the soft-spoken Alfie Davis sings the song of the shepherd outside the stage; a strange moment of purification before the violent ending.
In the context of this whole show, Alexey Markov’s Scarpia seems oddly underrated. It’s a curvy, supple and poised voice, much like Markov’s presentation of the character as a cunning, professional and efficient schemer. He was a little overwhelmed by the orchestra in the great act one Te Deum finale, and there wasn’t a tremendous sense of religious fervor in the face of the erotic fixation.
In act two, he cut an irresistible dash and we saw (and heard) a lot more fire and cruelty. It’s a production whose bold, romantic look actually seems to demand a chewy Bond villain presence and Markov’s cooler approach is certainly a striking take on the character, but feels a bit undercooked with all that drama. raised.
The great stories
Elena Stikhina’s Tosca – her debut in this house – is rather composed, and there is little sense of threat or angst in Act two’s awkwardly blocked exchange with Scarpia, which takes place with the two singers. far too far apart on the cavernous stage and together. It seems oddly distant for a battle of wits and wills fraught with lust, rage, and despair. She also didn’t seem particularly agitated as she decided to betray Angelotti’s hiding place to save Cavaradossi (and, indeed, kill Scarpia). Perhaps Tosca’s supreme composure was born from years of treading the boards, but he feels a moment of eerily flat character, with little conflict. The gestures seem rather common – there’s a lot of diva-ish hand imposition on the chest and a wistful air – and the part wants some imaginative direction.
Vocally, however, she was as starry as the backlit ramparts of Castel Sant’Angelo – and certainly captured Tosca’s temper and vanity. “Vissi d’arte” was a real spectacle, sung with glorious interiority, Stikhina leaning against the foot of the enormous sculpture in the background, before blossoming in despair and sorrow as the air was unrolling. Her voice is remarkably even across all registers and offers a silky smooth legato even with plenty of volume and in the upper parts of the staff.
Freddie de Tommaso is the first British singer (so to speak – he’s half Italian) to perform the role of Cavaradossi on this stage for six decades. And what a terrific performance it was, too – liquid and shiny, with an internal pulling force that allowed him to soar above the orchestra. His “Vittoria” cries were boastful and fiery, continuing into the enthralling passages that followed as he defiantly celebrated Napoleon’s victory at Marengo. Most of the musical choices in “The Lucevan le Stelle” and the duo that followed were pretty safe, and played a vocally straight bat throughout, for understandable reasons – but there’s no doubt that it will take longer. risks and will build up the excitement (especially in Act Two) as he continues racing in the other cast. Incredibly, he’s 28 – one to watch out for.
Hubert Francis’ Spoletta was an oily henchman, as cut and professional as Markov, and sneering and impartial after Tosca’s big leap – think about all the paperwork, I guess. Oksana Lyniv delivered a quick and balanced review of the score, pulling an excellent and always precise playing from the orchestra, keeping the fiery climaxes on a tight leash in order to focus their energies. The orchestral horns gave an explosion of pulsating bravery energy to the top of act three; the preceding Act ended with a savage, groaning sadness in the muffled strings of Puccini. It’s bold and brash, and it’s a great night out – but one wonders if the ROH should be thinking about refreshing this pillar of the repertoire with something newer and lighter.