Teatro Real’s Tosca run begins with a triumph by Sondra Radvanovsky in the title role

SpainSpain Puccini, Tosca [1] [2]: Soloists, Pequeños Cantores de la JORCAM, Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro Real / Nicola Luisotti (conductor). Teatre Real, Madrid, 16 and 17.7.2021. (JMI)

Maria Agresta (Tosca) and Michael Fabiano (Cavaradossi) (c) J del Real

Direction and Sets – Paco Azorín
Costumes – Isidro Prunés and Ulises Mérida
Lighting – Pedro Yagüe

Tosca – Sondra Radvanovsky/Maria Agresta
Cavaradossi – Joseph Calleja/Michael Fabiano
Scarpia – Carlos Álvarez/Gevorg Hakobyan
Sacristan – Valeriano Lanchas
Angelotti – Gerardo Bullón
Spoletta – Mikeldi Atxalandabaso
Sciarrone – David Lagares
Jailer – Luis López Navarro
Shepherd – Inés Ballesteros

The Teatro Real opera season is ending with a week devoted to Puccini’s always popular Tosca. It features a double cast for most of the run and will end with performances on the final nights by two great divos, Anna Netrebko and Jonas Kaufmann (although not together).

This Puccini masterpiece was last seen at Teatro Real in July 2011, with a double cast in which Sondra Radvanovsky stood out. She is the one who has really triumphed on this occasion too.

This staging (a co-production with Gran Teatro del Liceu and Seville’s Teatro de la Maestranza) is the well-known one by Paco Azorín, which premiered at the Liceu in March 2014 and was revived there in June 2019. Azorín does a fairly traditional job in terms of sets and costumes, and the production’s interest decreases from act to act. The set for Sant’Andrea della Valle is attractive, with an altarpiece based on projections that change in clever ways throughout the act. The stage revolves, and the Palazzo Farnese is behind the altarpiece with Scarpia’s quite bare office. The presence of a prison to the right of the stage seems strange. In Act III we see the rather disappointing prison roof where Cavaradossi wanders and where he will be executed.

There are some changes from the original production, the most striking of which is a new character added by Azorín who personifies the revolution and is a totally naked extra. She appears in all three acts, and is the one who hands the knife to Tosca to kill Scarpia. Another change that caught my attention, and this one positively, is that the protagonist does not change her dress between Acts II and III. I kept wondering why the Sacristan is present briefly in the last two acts of the opera. In short, it is a production that neither bothers one nor provokes much interest.

The musical direction was in the hands of Nicola Luisotti, the main guest conductor of Teatro Real. Once again, he has proven his excellence when it comes to works by Verdi or Puccini, although there was some excess of sound. Under his baton was the always outstanding Teatro Real orchestra.

Sondra Radvanovsky (Tosca) and Carlos Álvarez (Scarpia) (c) J. del Real

There is no doubt that in the first cast the great triumph was for Sondra Radvanovsky, who was singing Tosca here ten years after her Madrid debut in the part. Curiously, at that time she was the interpreter in the second cast. In recent years, Radvanovsky has become one of the leading sopranos in the lyrical-spinto repertoire, occupying, in my opinion, the podium of the greatest together with Anna Netrebko and Anja Harteros. The evolution of this soprano is surprising: she offers a voice of more than remarkable volume, with a very wide middle range, and has not lost an iota of her ease with the high notes. What a remarkable performer on stage she is! It should be noted that in all her performances the audience demanded that she repeated ‘Vissi d’arte’, thus making history at Teatro Real – a truly great Tosca.

The second Floria Tosca was performed by soprano Maria Agresta, whom we had previously seen here in operas such as Il trovatore, Don Carlo and Norma. I find her voice less compelling now than the one we could listen to about five years ago. It has lost amplitude, and her vocal suitability to the character of Tosca is highly debatable. Her biggest problem was the fact that she had to sing the part the day after Sondra Radvanovsky did. They say that comparisons are odious, but they are also unavoidable, and the gap between the two voices is very big.

Cavaradossi in the first cast was played by Joseph Calleja, who was not on the same level as Radvanovsky’s Tosca. He passed without pain or glory through ‘Recondita armonia’ and was at his best in Act III’s ‘E lucevan le stelle’, where he showed admirable piani. I had the impression that his high notes are more problematic than they were not too long ago.

Michael Fabiano was next in the role of the painter. He is well known in Madrid where he has sung several times in the past. He has a good middle range and is a fine singer, with the handicap that his high notes are always open and somewhat forced. He was at his best in the third act’s aria.

Carlos Álvarez’s performance in the part of Barón Scarpia proved his great artistic versatility. It is not easy to go from singing a buffo role in Viva la Mamma (review click here) to that of an evil character in Tosca within a month. He was remarkable vocally, and is an excellent actor too.

Gevorg Hakobyan in the second cast was making his debut at Teatro Real, although we have had the opportunity to see him at the Palau de Les Arts in Valencia on numerous occasions. He too had the problem of singing the day after Carlos Álvarez sang the part, and the difference is again considerable. His voice is appealing, but it is not well projected, especially on the high notes. As a performer he leaves something to be desired, and this character requires good acting skills.

In the secondary roles there was a sonorous Sacristan by Valeriano Lanchas and a well-suited Angelotti by Gerardo Bullón, and I should highlight the performance of Mikeldi Atxalandabaso as Spoletta. David Lagares was correct as Sciarrone, and Luis López Navarro was a resonant Jailer.

Jose M. Irurzun

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