The Times, 16 July 2011
Richard Morrison
Puccini: Tosca, ROH London, 14 July 2011
Three potent elements create some explosive chemistry
****/What an unholy trinity! Jonas Kaufmann, the world's hunkiest tenor, playing the proud rebel painter Cavaradossi. Angela Gheorghiu, still opera's grandest diva, bringing her silent-movie histrionics to the role of Tosca, quintessential archetype of all divas. And Bryn Terfel summoning awesome malevolence as Scarpia, the police chief whose treachery and lechery sends them all to assorted violent deaths on that hectic night in Rome. Each of the three has enough adoring fans to pack Covent Garden for two months, let alone the two shows in which they appear together. No wonder that £219 tickets in the stalls were changing hands for £350 on the internet this week. Makes you wonder why the Royal Opera didn't hike up the prices in the first place and save us poor old taxpayers some subsidy.

Were the tempestuous threesome worth the money? The chemistry was certainly explosive at times — especially in Act II, with Kaufmann hurling out his defiant hymn to liberty, Terfel roaring like a gale behind him, and Gheorghiu careering round the stage like a mad whippet in a ballgown. But vocally this wasn't the perfect match. Gheorghiu now plays and sings Tosca a lot more feistily than the limp damsel in distress she produced when Jonathan Kent's production was new in 2006. Even so, she can't muster the power to match a tenor in as glorious form as Kaufmann is enjoying. And his finesse and control are even more impressive than his decibels. One top note was whittled to such a delicate pianissimo that 2,000 scarcely dared breathe — until some idiot started clapping. But within her limitations Gheorghiu is still effective: expressing Tosca's vulnerability with silvery lyricism, then musteringa gutteral animal croak as she stood over Scarpia's skewered torso. As for Terfel, he barked a bit in Act I, but rediscovered some of his tonal beauty in the seduction scene.

Kent's production, in Paul Brown's oppressive, candle-lit sets, is a serviceable rather than compelling piece of theatre, and I still can't fathom why a giant bird's wing hovers over the entire show.

If you want real theatricality, however, listen to what's going on in the pit. Apart from becoming slightly unhinged from his diva in Vissi d'arte, Antonio Pappano gives a masterclass in Puccini conducting: imbuing some passages with a chamber-music delicacy, others with a stabbing brute force.

There is one performance more, on Sunday. However, if your wallet doesn't stretch to a £200 stalls seat, fret not. For £25 you can see Bryn, Jonas and Angie chew the furniture in lurid close-up when a film of last night's show comes to cinemas in November. 


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