One of the Royal Opera’s many-cast money-spinners for this season, we caught the second cast of the run on Saturday night. It made its mark, but not without some difficulties along the way. A short set of jottings this time.
The production is well-worn, and still looks like a glossy version of the old Zeffirelli production with a touch more abstraction but every bit as consistently gloomy. Maurizio Benini led a ‘grand’ reading that was broadly effective, maintained the momentum through the crucial second act high drama, but perhaps made its deliberate effects with a little too much determination. Here and there, there was just a hint of too much push-and-pull about the pacing: a sort of signalling to “get ready for a big bit…”. Dynamics were on the loud side, particularly for a cast that, by and large, weren’t.
I booked for Kristine Opolais as Tosca, and she certainly didn’t disappoint. I had expected a bigger sound, based on recollections of her Butterfly of a couple of years ago, but her tone was as secure as I remembered it to be, and she shaded it nicely. She threw out some nice snarls in the confrontation with Scarpia, and generally gave a sophisticated dramatic performance, especially pulling off a particularly effective stabbing scene (which can so often become gauche and clumsy). Thoroughly enjoyable; I really warm to her performances and look forward (I hope) to more at the ROH.
As her sparring partner, Michael Volle’s Scarpia was in the Bryn Terfel mode, if with a little less heft and grit in the voice. He was every inch the monster, and insinuated and growled most convincingly. And so we’re left with the Cavaradossi of Yonghoon Lee, which was the main reason for quibbles: he didn’t at all convince, I’m afraid. His voice seemed to vary wildly in volume and, despite some occasional nicely-shaped phrases, it wasn’t consistently attractive. His Italian was muddy, to say the least, and his acting rather stolid. I can scarcely recall being less moved by È lucevan le stelle.
Rather better than a ‘mixed bag’, then, but still lacking something in the final analysis…
Just remembered that Opolais will be back at the ROH next year in more Puccini: Manon Lescaut opposite Jonas Kaufmann. Excellent stuff…