United Kingdom Puccini, Tosca: Soloists, Royal Opera Chorus and Extra Chorus (chorus master: Renato Balsadonna), Orchestra of the Royal Opera House / Oleg Caetani (conductor). Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, 10.5.2013 (MB)
Cesare Angelotti – Michel de Souza
Sacristan – Jeremy White
Mario Cavaradossi – Roberto Alagna
Floria Tosca – Oksana Dyka
Baron Scarpia – Marco Vratogna
Spoletta – Martyn Hill
Sciarrone – Jihoon Kim
Shepherd Boy – Michael Clayton-Jolly
Gaoler – Olle Zetterström
Jonathan Kent (director)
Andrew Sinclair (revival director)
Paul Brown (designs)
Mark Henderson (lighting)
All in all, a dispiriting evening, this. Jonathan Kent’s 2006 staging of Tosca, revived again, as last year (!), by Andrew Sinclair, certainly does not reveal greater subtleties of meaning with further acquaintance. Indeed, it makes little or no attempt at conveying meaning at all, be it subtle or otherwise. There is nothing wrong in principle with setting the work when and where specified in the libretto, just as there is nothing wrong with reimagining it, though an over-exposed opera such as this more or less cries out for some element of rethinking. But irrespective of the relatively unimportant question of setting, there needs to be something, or rather a great deal, more to a production than that. Not only is there no sense, as I wrote last time, of dialogue between Puccini’s time, our own, and the time at which the opera is set; there sadly is no sense of drama beyond the gunshots in the third act. Paul Brown’s large scale sets might have imparted a welcome impression of menace, of claustrophobia, but again they could hardly do that on their own. I have no idea how much or how little rehearsal was permitted, but interaction between the singers was often so rudimentary as to suggest none whatsoever (which cannot have been the case).
Roberto Alagna at least offered energetic commitment on stage, unlike his Tosca and Scarpia. Alagna’s first act was shaky vocally; indeed his opening suffered from wild intonation and vocal constriction. Later on, however, he improved, though cleaner lines would often have been welcome. Such matters are, however, partly a matter of taste, and on his own terms, the second and third acts were reasonably impressive. Alas, Oksana Dyka’s vibrato was so wide as often to encompass the best part a minor third; her acting skills on this occasion were well-nigh non-existent. Perhaps it was as well that she simply strolled off the battlement rather than attempting anything that would vaguely qualify as a ‘leap’, but it hardly made for much of a climax. Marco Vratogna’s Scarpia also suffered from dryness and constriction in the first act, proving more focused in the second. His acting, however, matched that of his Scarpia; would that the Carry On element of his demise had been born of irony. The smaller parts were generally well taken, however. If only we had seen and heard more from Michel de Souza’s dynamic Angelotti, Jeremy White’s characterful, bumbling Sacristan, or Martyn Hill’s nasty Spoletta.
The orchestra played well enough, though the strings sometimes tended towards thinness. However, Oleg Caetani’s inconsistent conducting proved a considerable break upon the flowering or, more plainly, the progress of the score. He seemed undecided what he thought of it and therefore unable to make it cohere. The first act’s lack of sentimentality was to be welcomed, but instead it was brutalised; hard-driven rather than riven with menace. Phrasing throughout was short-breathed, instances of a longer line standing out awkwardly, given their lack of relation to what surrounded them. Alas, as with so much of what we saw and heard, what might have passed muster in a small, provincial theatre wedded to the repertory system simply was not good enough for a world stage, upon which this Tosca was presented as a major revival. All with ears to hear will have praised the Royal Opera House to the skies for its recent, superlative performances of Die Frau ohne Schatten; if a work which it performs so incessantly as Tosca is to be performed again any time soon, it needs to be done with similar care and attention. This spoke more of cynicism than of having ‘lived for art’.