The American soprano, Sondra Radvanvsky’s spectacular performance as Floria Tosca, is an experience not to be missed.
The libretto is based on La Tosca, a five-act play by the 19th century French playwright, Victorien Sardou. Floria Tosca, a celebrated singer, comes to see her lover, the artist Mario Cavaradossi in a church where he has been commissioned to paint Mary Magdalene. Unbeknown to her, Cavaradossi is hiding an escaped political prisoner. She suspects he is hiding a lover. Baron Scapia, the dreaded Chief of Police and his henchman exploit Tosca’s jealous nature to track the escapee and his accomplice.
Jonathan Kent’s production, though conventional, is perfectly pitched: it artfully balances melodrama and naturalism to draw in the audience and elicit empathy for Tosca and her passions, jealousies and her desperate desire to do what is right to save Cavaradossi, the man she loves to destruction.
Theatrically, the performance is superb. The settings, designed by Paul Brown, allude to conflicting forces in the drama – the statute of the Virgin, in Act I, contrasts with the image of the voluptuous Mary Magdalen painted by Cavaradossi. In Act II, a massive statue of Saint Michael, the Archangel, stands in ironic contrast to the brutality of Scapia, who nearly rapes Tosca and tortures Cavaradossi in his private room.
Radvanvsky’s Tosca is outstanding. When she opens her mouth the whole auditorium vibrates with the most powerful and rich sounds that grip even near deaf ears. She displays a range of emotions and behaviours – jealousy, passion, suspicion, vulnerability, control and desperation; love for life and heartfelt pain – all with seamless transition. Her performance gives full reign to the versatility of her voice and her skills as an actress.
Radvanovsky offers a delightfully loving, warm and tactile Tosca in Act I, whose pangs of jealousy reflect the insecurity that comes with profound passionate love. Her subsequent courage and desperation lead to a stunning rendition of “Vissi d’arte.”
Unfortunately the same cannot be said about Riccardo Massi’s Cavaradossi. His voice is neither uniformly strong nor rich. Massi delivers the first aria ‘Recondita armonia’ with a beautifully toned lyric tenor voice. This expressive and rolling voice falls flat when Radvanovsky’s colourful voice with its rich vocal nuances fills the auditorium. The duets in Act I and Act III betray Massi’s weak and almost colourless voice. Nevertheless, the chemistry between Massi’s Cavaradossi and Radvanovsky’s Tosca is excellent and enhances the theatricality of this production.
Lucio Gallo’s Scarpia, the dreaded Chief of Police, is another weak link. His acting is uniformly good, but the rich deep bass baritone necessary to convey the harsh and dark notes of his evil character, are missing. Gallo’s vocal range verges on warmth, which is out of kilter with Puccini’s dissonant harmonies, magnificently orchestrated Placido Domingo.
Domingo conducts the Royal Opera House Orchestra with authenticity and a knowing attention to the opera’s vocal demands on the principals. At no point did the orchestra overpower the singers. The pauses in the orchestration give way to vocal notes and are nothing short of perfection in the execution of the discourse between the libretto and the music.