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Not Your Ordinary Love Triangle: Tosca Reviewed

Tosca at Royal Opera House ★★★★★

Franco Milazzo
By Franco Milazzo Last edited 17 months ago
Not Your Ordinary Love Triangle: Tosca Reviewed Tosca at Royal Opera House 5
Samuel Youn as Scarpia and Angela Gheorghiu as Tosca in Jonathan Kent’s Tosca © ROH 2016. Photo by Catherine Ashmore

It’s not often serious operas feature a cross-dressing fugitive and a trolling priest among the cast but Giacamo Puccini’s Tosca is not your ordinary love triangle.

Appearing at the Royal Opera House for the seventh time since it debuted in 2006, Jonathan Kent’s lavish and accessible production sees singer Floria Tosca (Angela Gheorgiu) attempt to save her lover Cavaradossi (Riccardo Massi) from the villainous official Baron Scarpia (Samuel Youn).

Cavaradossi has been a busy boy. When not painting a huge fresco in a church, he finds himself caught in two dramas: his highly-strung other half suspects him of having an affair and an on-the-run political prisoner is hiding out in the chapel and preparing to leg it in ladies clothing. Chief of police Scarpia has his eye on both the runaway and Tosca’s affections. Meanwhile, the padre is saving his soul by teasing the local heathens (“annoying an unbeliever earns an indulgence”).

Of the three, soprano Gheorgiu is the star attraction and deserves her billing on her vocal talent alone. Her acting could be more relaxed — she veers from static to melodramatic faster than a downhill Ferrari — but her verbal duel with Scarpia is a veritable tour de force and her take on the aria vissi d’arte is as heart-rending as ever.

As Cavaradossi, Massi is magnificent from soup to nuts. Not only does his rich voice nail both the character’s romantic notions in Recondita Armonia and his eventual despair (E lucevan le stelle) but his physical mannerisms convey just as much as his lips; for Italians, hands are as important as the tongue when it comes to communication and Massi’s non-verbal skills draw us into Cavaradossi’s world hook, line and sinker.

Korean bass-baritone Youn’s deliciously dark turn is a guilty treat. Scarpia makes no bones about his sexual technique — he proudly prefers “violent conquest” over “sweet consent” and gets off on women’s anger, hatred and tears — and Youn exudes magnetic malevolence from every pore as the portly plod.

The popularity of Kent’s version is clear to see. Gheorgiu’s return to the role she played in this production’s first outing is enough reason to see this opera but Kent’s role in its success should not be understated. It vividly enunciates Puccini’s work by accenting the maestro’s eloquent and passionate music with strong direction and stunning set design. Tosca is a classic for all seasons but Gheorgiu and Kent make this an unmissable event.

Tosca will be at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, until 5 February. For more information on show dates, ticket availability and prices, see the ROH website. Londonist attended on a complimentary press ticket.

Last Updated 11 January 2016

Nick

Gheorghiu, not Gheorgiu