The Spectator, 21 May 2008
Michael Tanner
Puccini: Tosca, London, ROH, 12 May 2008
Feel the passion
The latest revival of Tosca at the Royal Opera, with many changes in production by Stephen Barlow, shows signs of taking the work seriously, though they are contradicted by the corporate- and bar-friendly intervals, of a length to dissipate tension and momentum. Antonio Pappano’s conducting, too, displays a passion for the opera, every orchestral masterstroke being held up as a trophy; while it also moves towards one ponderous pause after another, so that Act II, which when conducted coarsely enough is a terrifying vortex of violence and lust, seemed languorous and torpid. It all gave the excellent cast a chance to show their gifts, and they took it. The result was that the star of the occasion was Cavaradossi, usually a mere cipher without whom the perverse romance of Tosca and Scarpia couldn’t be worked out.

Jonas Kaufmann, a great tenor in his prime, is only used by Covent Garden in ‘stooge’ roles, but always electrifies by his presence and his thrilling Germano–Italian voice. His stupendous rendering of ‘Recondita armonia’ was rightly greeted with shouts of relief as much as excitement — this sound was what we last heard from Domingo in his prime; while ‘Vittoria!’ suggested a Corelli who hadn’t abandoned taste. And ‘E lucevan le stelle’ achieved such inwardness that it got the supreme accolade of silence. He is a convincing actor, too, though I wish he wouldn’t fold his arms as an all-purpose gesture of irritation, boredom, contempt or defiance. Paolo Gavanelli is a bug of a Scarpia, with not much more voice than Tito Gobbi had in his later years, but an effective portrayal of arthritic lechery and viciousness.

The Tosca of Micaela Carosi is on the grand scale, imperious vocally and in demeanour, though she doesn’t have a great deal of voice at her disposal. The secondary roles are exceptionally strongly cast — but now we need Opera North’s astonishing production to show what Tosca can really be, if the idea is that we should be distressed as well as shocked. All Paul Brown’s heavy masonry, besides being perilous for the singers and largely ghastly to look at, suggests that the audience should be mere sight-seers, while a production that involves you is an experience that gives pause for some disturbing thoughts.

Same article, but about Idomeneo at Barbican
The title role was taken by Ian Bostridge, a tenor at the opposite end of the spectrum from Kaufmann — though I’d love to hear Kaufmann sing the part (but I think Bostridge perhaps should resist any temptation to move into Puccini).

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