Royal Opera House, London
The Royal Opera's latest revival of Tosca got a pretty lukewarm reception when it opened at the beginning of last month. For the final performances, however, the cast has been overhauled, and Angela Gheorghiu, Jonas Kaufmann and Bryn Terfel have been brought in to give the show star appeal.
Though it's hard to understand why anyone would want to memorialise Jonathan Kent's drearily conventional staging, the two performances with this trio are being recorded for cinema presentation in the autumn and presumably for a subsequent DVD. All three singers have appeared in the show's various manifestations over the last five years – Gheorghiu and Terfel were part of the cast when it was brand new – but never together until now. Any idea that such big names would spontaneously combust when finally together on stage proved slightly wide of the mark. The performance contained some memorable moments, but never quite enough to transcend the deadening effect of the production; it was left to Antonio Pappano's conducting to provide a consistent dramatic pulse. Puccini brings out the best in him.
Even if his first appearance makes him look like one of the baddies from Pirates of the Caribbean, Terfel's Scarpia was the pick – a scary mix of casual cruelty and insidious charm, investing every word with menace. Kaufmann's slightly self-regarding Cavaradossi made me listen to every phrase for the astonishing range of colour he produced: if Recondita Armonia in the first act sounded subfusc, his brief moment of exultation in the second was gloriously full voiced, and E Lucevan le Stelle ran through a wondrous spectrum of tints and inflections. By contrast, Gheorghiu was anything but compelling, her tone parched, her acting semaphoric. There was no convincing raison d'etre for her Vissi d'Arte, and so no emotional core for her performance.
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