Puccini’s Tosca at its best commands terrific dramatic power, and this Royal Opera House performance approaches that ideal. Antonio Pappano’s mastery of Puccinian pace and phrasing intensifies this turbulent score’s onward surge, but he’s also noticeably attentive to his singers, driving dialogues passionately but never forcing them.
Tenor Jonas Kaufmann noticeably benefits; his voice is less overtly heroic than, say, Plácido Domingo’s, but poetic and expressive, his dark middle range makes much of ‘E lucevan le stelle’ and his cries of ‘Vittoria!’ are thrilling. His handsome, dignified demeanour nicely counterpoints Scarpia. Much ink has been spilled over Scarpia’s supposed aristocracy, but the real character was the typical brigand turned police chief. Bass-baritone Bryn Terfel embodies such a thug, a flashily dressed, sneering giant who hurls tenor Hubert Francis’s creepy, prim Spoleta around, alternately simpering over Tosca and sadistically provoking her horrified revulsion; the atmosphere of sweaty menace at Cavaradossi’s defiance is palpable. His baritone isn’t as rich as Tito Gobbi’s, but almost as fluent and more naturally inflected, and the intensity of his acting never slackens. In the title role, soprano Angela Gheorghiu isn’t Maria Callas, though she looks the part. And Tosca’s mercurial character seems to resonate with her naturally.
Both basses – Jeremy White’s unexaggerated Sacristan and Lukas Jakobski’s harried Angelotti – stand out. Jonathan Kent’s staging is vivid rather than revelatory; Paul Brown’s designs work atmospherically on screen. There are some decent Toscas on DVD already, but I’d start here.
Michael Scott Rohan