Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Don Giovanni in Paris

A brutalist Don Giovanni at the Palais Garnier, Belgian set designer Jan Versweyveld installed three huge, a vista raw cement towers that overwhelmed the Opéra Garnier’s Second Empire opulence. The eight principals faced off in a battle royale instigated by stage director Ivo van Hove. Conductor Philippe Jordan thrust the Mozart score into the depths of expressionistic conflict.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

The Gardeners: a new opera by Robert Hugill

‘When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot,/ Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,/ And flowers will shine in this now barren plot/ And fame upon it through the years descend:/ But many a heart upon each simple cross/ Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss.’

Richard Jones's Boris Godunov returns to Covent Garden

There are never any real surprises with a Richard Jones production and Covent Garden’s Boris Godunov, first seen in 2016, is typical of Jones’s approach: it’s boxy, it’s ascetic, it’s over-bright, with minimalism turned a touch psychedelic in the visuals.

An enchanting Hansel and Gretel at Regent's Park Theatre

If you go out in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise. And, it will be no picnic! For, deep in the broomstick forest that director Timothy Sheader and designer Peter McKintosh have planted on the revolving stage at Regent’s Park Theatre is a veritable Witches’ Training School.

First staged production of Offenbach's Fantasio at Garsington

Offenbach's Fantasio is one of the works where, replacing the mad-cap satire of his earlier operettas with a more romantic melancholy, he paved the way for Les contes d'Hoffmann. Unpopular during his lifetime, Fantasio disappeared and only work by the musicologist Jean-Christophe Keck brought the score together again.

Rusalka in San Francisco

It must be a dream. Though really it is a nightmare. The water sprite Rusalka tortures herself if she is telling the story, or tortures the man who has imagined her if he is telling the story. Either way the bizarrely construed confusion of Czech fairy tales has no easily apparent meaning or message.

Orlando in San Francisco

George Frederic Handel was both victim and survivor of the San Francisco Opera’s Orlando seen last night on the War Memorial stage.

Anthony Negus conducts Das Rheingold at Longborough

There are those in England who decorate their front lawns with ever-smiling garden gnomes, but in rural Gloucestershire the Graham family has gone one better; their converted barn is inhabited, not by diminutive porcelain figures, but fantasy creatures of Norse mythology - dwarves, giants and gods.

Carmen in San Francisco

A razzle-dazzle, bloodless Carmen at the War Memorial, further revival of Francesca Zambello’s 2006 Covent Garden production already franchised to Oslo, Sidney and Washington, D.C.

Weimar Berlin - Bittersweet Metropolis: Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra

Strictly speaking, The Weimar Republic began on 11th August 1919 when the Weimar Constitution was announced and ended with the Enabling Act of 23rd March 1933 when all power to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag was disbanded.

A superb Un ballo in maschera at Investec Opera Holland Park

Investec Opera Holland Park’s brilliantly cast new production of Un ballo in maschera reunites several of the creative team from last year’s terrific La traviata, with director Rodula Gaitanou, conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren and lighting designer Simon Corder being joined by the designer, takis.

A Classy Figaro at The Grange Festival

Where better than The Grange’s magnificent grounds to present Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. Hampshire’s neo-classical mansion, with its aristocratic connections and home to The Grange Festival, is the perfect setting to explore 18th century class structures as outlined in Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto.

A satisfying Don Carlo opens Grange Park Opera 2019

Grange Park Opera opened its 2019 season with a revival of Jo Davies fine production of Verdi's Don Carlo, one of the last (and finest) productions in the company's old home in Hampshire.

Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, 2019

The first woman composer to receive the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize could not have been a worthier candidate.

Josquin des Prez and His Legacy: Cinquecento at Wigmore Hall

The renown and repute of Josquin des Prez (c.1450-1521) both during his lifetime and in the years following his death was so extensive and profound that many works by his contemporaries, working in Northern France and the Low Countries, were mis-attributed to him. One such was the six-part Requiem by Jean Richafort (c.1480-c.1550) which formed the heart of this poised concert by the vocal ensemble Cinquecento at Wigmore Hall, in which they gave pride of place to Josquin’s peers and successors and, in the final item, an esteemed forbear.

Symphonie fantastique and Lélio United – F X Roth and Les Siècles, Paris

Symphonie fantastique and Lélio together, as they should be, with François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles livestreamed from the Philharmonie de Paris (link below). Though Symphonie fantastique is heard everywhere, all the time, it makes a difference when paired with Lélio because this restores Berlioz’s original context.

Ivo van Hove's The Diary of One Who Disappeared at the Linbury Theatre

In 1917 Leoš Janáček travelled to Luhačovice, a spa town in the Zlín Region of Moravia, and it was here that he met for the first time Kamila Stösslová, the young married woman, almost 40 years his junior, who was to be his muse for the remaining years of his life.

Manon Lescaut opens Investec Opera Holland Park's 2019 season

At this end of this performance of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at Investec Opera Holland Park, the first question I wanted to ask director Karolina Sofulak was, why the 1960s?

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Cosmic traveling through his Klavierstücke, Kontakte and Stimmung

Stockhausen. Cosmic Prophet. Two sequential concerts. Music written for piano, percussion, sound diffusion and the voice. We are in the mysterious labyrinth of one of the defining composers of the last century. That at least ninety-minutes of one of these concerts proved to be an event of such magnitude is as much down to the astonishing music Stockhausen composed as it is to the peerless brilliance of the pianist who took us on the journey through the Klavierstücke. Put another way, in more than thirty years of hearing some of the greatest artists for this instrument - Pollini, Sokolov, Zimerman, Richter - this was a feat that has almost no parallels.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

29 May 2019

Puccini’s Tosca at The Royal Opera House

Sitting through Tosca - and how we see and hear it these days - does sometimes make one feel one hasn’t been to the opera but to a boxing match. Joseph Kerman’s lurid, inspired or plain wrong-headed description of this opera as ‘a shabby little shocker’ was at least half right in this tenth revival of Jonathan Kent’s production.

Tosca: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

A review by Marc Bridle

Above: Bryn Terfel (Scarpia)

Photo credit: Catherine Ashmore

 

One should at least be relieved that it’s set sometime during the 1800’s - and not in a carpark where a resurrected Scarpia returns in Act III to shoot Tosca as happens in Sturminger’s re-imagined production at Salzburg (shabby, and a shocker). When I reviewed this Covent Garden production back in January 2018, I seemed to view it more as one malevolent and cruel empire set against the backdrop of a city infected by poverty and moral decline. Andrew Sinclair’s revival seems a bit less focussed on this - or perhaps I simply couldn’t see it because what hasn’t changed is the simply unremitting darkness in which much of this production is set. I still think Paul Brown’s designs are largely impressive but what I noticed more this time was the imbalance of them. There is perhaps something askew when the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle in Act I lacked scale and Scarpia’s apartment at the Palazzo Farnese doesn’t. This is a church that often resembles a crypt, but it fits well with the oppressive feel of Act I where some are just nearer God and some are just unfortunate enough never to be.

Act II did seem a little less pallid this time which was just as well because it centred attention so much more neatly on the power struggle which is the centrepiece between Scarpia and Tosca. Act I in this production, despite all that is going on, still felt static; yet Act II never seemed constrained - though I think this largely had to do with the powerhouse performances of Terfel and Opolais who used every bit of the stage like warring tigers. One was perhaps a little more conscious of diversions, such as the opening and closing of window shutters (I really lost count of how many times that happened), but they prowled magnificently. Act III still seems problematic. I was more conscious than ever that it seemed back to front. Depending on where you sit in the stalls, the shooting posts have a tendency to block your view and the lighter this short act becomes the less it becomes visually convincing. As impressive as this particular immolation from Tosca might have been, one was still left with the impression she had simply flung herself off the end of a rather inconspicuous pier.

Vittorio Grigolo as CavaradoSSI.jpg Vittorio Grigolo (Cavaradossi). Photo credit: Catherine Ashmore.

The shock value in this revival comes from the casting. The opening night audience clearly fell in love with Vittorio Grigòlo’s Cavaradossi. The role is a relatively recent one he has taken on, having made his debut with it at the Metropolitan Opera last year; I can’t help but feel somewhat equivocal about him. Joseph Calleja, who sang Cavaradossi in 2018 here, sounded rather small - Grigòlo is the exact opposite. His is not a voice to shy away from using its wide range, though what many might confuse as heft I’d rather describe as ungainliness. What is so frustrating about him is that there is such an undeniable originality he brings to his phrasing which, in part, is an extension of his quite remarkable acting. Okay, some might call it a little hammy, and certainly it stretches the boundaries of good taste relatively speaking, but just as his acting pushes limits so does his vocal characterisation of this part. If a tenor like Jonas Kaufmann is always pristine and rich in this role, Grigòlo cuts it with an unpolished legato and a roughness which seems much closer to Cavaradossi himself. He is really a little uncouth. But no one really falls in love with perfection, or even a remotely ideal personification of it. I’ve rarely heard a more visceral ‘Recondita Armonia’ but it did Grigòlo few favours because the voice was often at such full tilt it sometimes felt off-balance. Thrilling it might have been, but you also felt he was going to fall flat on his face (or, rather, off his scaffold). His acting during ‘E lucevan le stelle’ was enormously draining to watch - but at the same time compelling. Did one really care that the voice (again stretched at an unbelievably loud volume) fractured in places? Not one bit. He certainly has the ability to sing with restraint - this was notable in some of his duets - and he can scale the voice down when he wants to. But ultimately, this felt like a performance from a tenor who liked to live both in the fast lane and somewhat dangerously. A Cavaradossi who perhaps had parked his sportscar is Sturminger’s Salzburg carpark.

Kristine Opolais as Tosca.jpgKristine Opolais (Tosca). Photo credit:Catherine Ashmore.

Kristine Opolais’s Tosca, on the other hand, seemed everything her Cavaradossi wasn’t. If he wobbled and seemed rough-hewn, she was like an empress with an ermine softness to her bottom register and a steely brilliance to her upper that never betrayed a hint of unsteadiness. I’ve never really noticed in many Tosca’s previously the underlying jealously that betrays her character in Act I but here Opolais was a real storyteller, unravelling her insecurity with touching sincerity and a little humour to pad it out. Some Tosca’s can - indeed do - seem very distant from their Cavaradossi but Opolais worked a beautiful chemistry with Grigòlo. But Tosca is a very complete role, one that requires a singer to be a great actress too and that is no more so that in the great Act II.

I suppose any Tosca today would be fortunate to have Bryn Terfel as her Scarpia and Opolais did not waste this opportunity. Perhaps because Terfel brings such sheer brutishness and malevolence to Scarpia, Opolais was formidable. The voice is just heavenly - those high notes were like jangling chains whipping against exposed flesh. But how rare to hear a ‘Vissi d’arte’ that was sung with so much reverence and depth to its inner meaning. So many sopranos sing this aria towards the audience; Opolais was bowed, penitent, the voice like an invocation. It made her killing of Scarpia all the more gruesome as she stabbed him not once, but twice, exposing his waistcoat so we could see his blood-soaked shirt.

Terfel’s Scarpia has lost nothing over the years. There are any number of things about his performance which still have the capacity to shock an audience. His stage presence is completely absolute, and you oddly feel he’s there when he really isn’t doing anything. His magnetism is beyond compelling. Terfel’s Scarpia is becoming very like Tito Gobbi’s - the snarling notes, the eyes that widen and glower with terrifying power, the stalking like a presumptive predator. When he unbuttons his waistcoat because he believes he has vanquished Tosca the shock he might actually rape her is quite real. The voice itself is a massive instrument, a hammer of Thor. What was so exquisite about this Act II - so completely compelling - was Terfel’s projection of the notes. Every nuance was there; it was simply astonishing.

What was also unquestionably better this time was the conducting of the score; Alexander Joel clearly knows his way through the treacherous terrain of Puccini’s music. There were moments when he felt the need to linger, or broaden his tempo - Act II was generally somewhat longer because of his tendency to just make it one long crescendo that suddenly collapses into final murderous resolution. He sometimes made Grigòlo’s more heroically-minded attempts at stage dominance more difficult by reigning him in, notably during ‘E lucevan le stelle’ which caused the tenor problems - but the opposite was the case during Grigòlo’s two cries of ‘Vittoria’ which pushed him into brinkmanship. The orchestral playing was glorious with beautiful string tone, and Joel evidently lavished attention to the brass playing; the horns at the opening of Act III were simply fabulous in both tone and precision.

This is a Tosca that still looks beautiful at times, though that beauty often means it looks somewhat gritty, perhaps even grungy in places. No amount of gold can make a crypt look ecclesiastical, and not even a star-lit sky can rescue a final act that looks like a couple of scrappy wooden posts beside a grey wall that, well, looks like a grey wall. This was an evening rescued by its singers - and in the case of Grigòlo’s Cavaradossi rather overshadowed by it. If Opolais and Terfel gave us a masterclass in great singing and acting, Grigòlo gave us something else. I came out of this undoubtedly interesting performance thinking I hadn’t really seen Puccini’s Tosca but a new opera called Puccini’s Cavaradossi.

From 30th May until 20th June 2019

Marc Bridle

Puccini: Tosca

Kristine Opolais (Tosca), Vittorio Grigòlo (Cavaradossi), Bryn Terfel (Scarpia), Hubert Francis (Spoletto), Jihoon Kim (Sciarrone), Michael Mofidian (Angelotti), Jonathan Lemalu (Sacristan); Jonathan Kent (director), Alexander Joel (conductor), Andrew Sinclair (revival director), Paul Brown (designer), Mark Henderson (lighting), Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House.

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London; Monday 27th May 2019.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):