Royal Opera House
Covent Garden, London
The Royal Opera House's summer production of Tosca was showing
this week at a cinema in Brive. It was an artistic triumph.
In decades of going to operas I have never seen one in which
the principal parts were so well cast and so superbly sung and
Bryn Terfel was totally convincing as the evil Baron Scarpia,
who got more than he bargained for from Tosca. His very physical
interpretation used his powerful presence and sweaty lasciviousness
to enormous effect. It would be easy to imagine him terrifying
the population of Rome. I was so taken by his dramatic persona
that I almost forgot to listen to his singing, but he was magnificent
and there was absolutely nothing to criticise. Unfortunately
I can only imagine his powerful voice making the ROH resonate
when he hit full volume.
I have inserted an extract from his maniacally intense "Te
Angela Gheorghiu and Bryn Terfel
- To listen , click the image above -
Angela Gheorghiu as Tosca, combined a beautiful liquid tone
in her quieter moments with a nervy intensity as she was overcome
by jealousy. Her acting was also very free and expressive, moving
easily between love, jealousy, repulsion, murderous violence
and back to love again with no sense of unease or discontinuity.
She is, and was in this production, a real diva! You can easily
imagine why Cavaradossi was in love with her, in spite of her
jealous nature. "Vissi d'arte" generated plenty of
frissons, which is always a good sign that true artistry and
professionalism have truly worked their magic.
Jonas Kaufmann as Cavaradossi had me applauding, along with
the ROH audience, within the first ten minutes! Near the end
of "Recondita armonia" he came off the top notes at
full volume and produced a faultless decrescendo ending in a
sustained pianissimo. This is so difficult to do, and it was
so well done, that he won me from that very moment. In the more
tender moments with Tosca there was a real chemistry between
them. The rest of his performance was just as accomplished including
"E lucevan le stelle".
At the end, in the closing scene with Tosca just before his
execution, his doubts about her promises of a new life together
were subtly tempered by his desire not to show that he still
feared Scarpia's betrayal. He didn't really believe that he
would be free, but he didn't want to spoil the moment for Tosca.
This was very subtly conveyed and gave great depth to his interpretation
of the role. For me, for the first time in a staging of Tosca,
I felt that the role of Cavaradossi was more than a caricature.
I formally renounce my earlier criticism of his French pronunciation,
although I'd still hesitate to see him in Carmen as Don José.
The supporting roles were also well cast and well played. Jeremy
White as the sacristan used his experience and stagecraft to
good effect, Lucas Jacobski as Angelotti had a strong stage
presence as well as a fine baritone voice and Hubert Francis
as Spoletta, looking like a young Robespierre, kept all the
menace underneath his pale exterior.
Jonathan Kent's relatively traditional production did not distract.
After Scarpia's aria in act III the audience roared in approval
and, when that had died down, Bryn Terfel, with a sneer on his
face, gave himself an ironic slow hand clap. Moments like that,
and also when from time to time minute details of the action
on stage were perfectly timed to coincide with the orchestral
score, demonstrated that a very refined and intelligent director
was at work. I'm sure that I would notice more such touches
if I was able to view it again.
Antonio Pappano's conducting of the excellent ROH orchestra
formed the bedrock supporting the whole structure, and it was
also faultless. His understanding of the singer's parts and
his keen sense of communication allowed them to relax, knowing
that when they were ready to start the next phrase he would
I fully endorse the opinion of a colleague in the choir who
said, "C'était plus qu'excellent, c'était
un régale". "It was better than excellent,
it was a real feast".
So bearing in mind that this was a digital recording on a large
HD screen in a cinema, how did it compare with the real operatic
Everyone I have spoken too thought that there were too many
close ups. Personally that didn't bother me since the acting
was good enough, even in close up. It was not a film, with lots
of short takes and make-up girls, but a recording of a live
event, so there was plenty of sweat and even a dribble. Singing
is, after all, very much a physical business and, although in
London I used to like sitting in the cheap seats at the front
and watching the spit flying, I can imagine circumstances when
I would not want to see the faces of certain singers projected
three metres high on the screen. Usually in the theatre you
are too far away to really see the expressions on the faces
and everything is viewed in wide angle. Perhaps the video directors
need to think less in terms of the language of film and more
from the point of view of opera.
"I Wish I'd Been There"
I wanted to join in the applause and the bravos at the high
points, and the standing ovation at the end, but the cinema
audience didn't, and I was inhibited!
Finally the direct contact with the sound and the ambience
of the opera house was not there. Only when you feel the power
of a singer's voice filling the room as he or she really opens
up, or sense the audience holding its breath for the pianissimo
passages, can you really say that you are having the true operatic
I certainly would not have wanted to miss the cinematic presentation,
but I wish that I'd been there!
Here's another taster...
Jonas Kaufmann and Angela Gheorghiu
- to listen, click the image above -
Look out for the DVD!