A Tosca for our Times: Sondra Radvanovsky in Madrid

SpainSpain G. Puccini, Tosca: Soloists, Madrid Symphonic Orchestra, Intermezzo Chorus,  Renato Palumbo (conductor). Madrid Teatro Real. 28.07.2011 (JMI)

Production Teatro Real in coproduction with ABAO (Asociación Bilbaina de Amigos de la Ópera).

Direction: Nuria Espert
Sets: Ezio Frigerio
Costumes: Franca Squarciapino
Lighting: Vinicio Cheli


Tosca: Sondra Radvanovsky
Cavaradossi: Jorge de León
Scarpia: George Gagnidze

This performance of Tosca brings Madrid’s 2010/11 opera season 2010-2011 to an end. With this new cast Tosca worked better than it did at the premiere on July 12th. (Review on S&H here.) Renato Palumbo had better control of matters, too particularly the first act had much more tension.

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Puccini, Tosca,
Sinopoli / Philharmonia / Freni, Domingo, Ramey

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Verdi Opera Scenes,
Sondra Radvanovsky & Dmitri Hvorostovsky

The new Floria Tosca was American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, wildly popular with the crowd. The evolution of this soprano is quite amazing: She now displays a voice of great volume with a very wide middle range, while having lost nothing of her ease at the high notes. She continues to be an outstanding singer and a remarkable performer on stage, even if her very distinctive voice is not to everybody’s liking: Its color is probably the darkest you will find today, with a characteristic vibrato in the middle register, not unanimously loved. She is a true spinto, perhaps the most important today, and she is foremost a rare voice. Moreover, her Tosca is very temperamental and credible, as it should be. She belongs to the category of Toscas who don’t need a knife to kill Scarpia; her order “Muori, damnato, muori!” alone should be enough. Not everything was superb in her vocal delivery, but she was a successful Tosca.

The cancellation of Marcello Giordani as Cavaradossi brought Marco Berti into the first cast, and Jorge De Leon into the second. The surprising and successful debut of this tenor at Teatro Real replacing Marcelo Alvarez as Andrea Chenier is already part of local opera history. We discoverd an important spinto tenor and it opened doors for him at many theaters. It’s been a year and a half since that debut and the surprise is no longer news. We are now in a position to look more objectively at his qualities. His voice—of sufficient volume and remarkable homogeneity between registers, rising easily to the high notes, at least up to high B—is a major asset. In a poor landscape of tenors in the heavy repertoire, he is without a doubt one of the most important voices. Cavaradossi is a good touchstone to evaluate the vocal qualities of an interpreter, beyond the quality of the voice. I found him forceful and short of nuance, in other words: a better voice than singer. His “Recondita Armonia” was a surprised positively, though, because he was even able to end in a piano sound, after initially displaying his power, and he won well-deserved ovations with it. His phrasing is neither elegant nor refined and in Act III he offered mainly decibels. His “È lucevam le stelle” was powerful, too much so for my taste, and in the most beatiful “O dolci mani” he couldn’t move me with his uncontrolled standard-issue forte. What he has is enough to delight some opera fans, but it is not enough to truly convince in this character. Should he moderate his impulses, pay more attention to phrasing and nuances, and avoid pushing the voice so much, he should be able to a fantastic tenor in his Fach, in which fantastic tenors are so needed today.

Baritone George Gagnidze was a correct Scarpia; not more than that. His voice is big, his interpretation small, but he benefits from a shortage of dramatic baritones today.

José MªIrurzun