A very ordinary sort of Tosca graced the ROH stage on Saturday, despite the stellar prices. An acceptable cast performed creditably, from within the long shadow cast by the 2-performances-out-of-10 ensemble that will jet in in July and jet back out again pretty sharpish.
The undoubted stars of the evening were Pappano and the orchestra. This was a big, meaty, red-blooded soundworld, with sinuous and insinuating nuance wafting from the pit in all the best moments. Outstanding pacing and playing captured all of the melodrama full-on.
Which is good, because there wasn’t quite enough of it onstage. As our heroine, Martina Serafin sang with more refinement than I had expected, indeed too much refinement. Her encounter with Scarpia missed that flash of fire in her desperation that can really make the scene fly and, though she imbued the interplay with plenty of detail, it never quite convinced. Her Vissi d’arte created the requisite moment of repose amidst the tumult, but was some way from its heartstopping potential. By the third act, she seemed to be tiring vocally; or, at any rate, things were becoming more hard-edged and approximate of pitch. However, at the end she is to be credited with pulling off the very tricky feat of a convincing and genuinely dramatic discovery of Scarpia’s double-dealing and subsequent suicide leap.
The Scarpia of Juha Uusitalo was, in a similar vein, a relatively genteel affair. His medium-sized baritone was overwhelmed by the thundering Te deum and although, on frequent glances through the binoculars, there was a committed and dramatic portrayal married to a convincingly sleazy appearance, when viewed from afar he receded into the background too quickly.
So, of the central triumvirate, this brings us to Marcello Giordani’s Cavaradossi. It was not enjoyable. The unrelenting loudness came with a rawness to the tone that began to build from the very start: Recondita armonia was safely despatched, but much of the remainder was definitely in a can belto mould. By Act 3, his contribution to E lucevan le stelle failed to capitalise on the sensational pathos that was conjured up by the orchestral introduction. The a capella duet – Trionfal, di nova speme – was almost nerve-wracking, so loud and coarse did it sound.
The production worked efficiently, as this production does. The first act uses the two levels effectively to delineate atmospheric ‘business’ at the altar from the main principals below. The second act is rather too busy of decor, and insufficiently lit, as well as being unhelpful to the high numbers of restricted view seats in the theatre. The final act is rather bare, but maintains its atmosphere and doesn’t hamper a clear presentation of the action. It’s a good production to have in the warehouse for when you need to extract ready cash from your audience with a popular warhorse of the rep.
On which note, I return to my opening line: ‘a very ordinary kind of Tosca‘, indeed it was. Which rather makes me want to question why I paid a price determined by the later casting of Gheorghiu/Terfel/Kaufmann. The Royal Opera House really did ought to be more careful about such blanket approaches, especially when they allow the four-tickets-per-Friend allocation on all evenings, which meant that so many people missed out on the ‘stellar’ performances. Tsk tsk, indeed. I’ve got Macbeth again on Wednesday, so I’ll forgive them on this occasion.