Image borrowed from www.musicomh.com

Image borrowed from http://www.musicomh.com

Tosca was the 2nd opera I ever heard, and along with Carmen and the Ring, were the only operas I knew at all, until a couple of years ago. In fact, come to think of it, Tosca is the only opera (apart from the Ring) that I’ve seen twice live. Shame that I have such a rubbish memory that I can’t do much in the way of comparisons, as all I can remember of seeing it before was James Morris stomping around as Scarpia with long boots and a riding crop.

I know lots more about opera now, of course, but even so, I ain’t a singer so please take any comments about the singing with a big pinch of IMHO.

So, although I generally try and avoid other reviews, I could hardly fail to notice all the discussion about Angela Gheorgiu’s unusual interpretation of the character of Tosca, and her (alleged) slagging off of Callas. People have been saying that she’s playing Tosca as too innocent and ‘girly’, more like a Mimi. I think they’re wrong. I think that in Gheorgiu’s version, Tosca is one of those awful forty-something women who put on a girly-act, simpering around as if they’re teenagers (not that actual teenagers are usually anything like that). Older women who’ve been around a bit and ‘seen the world’ can be very attractive, but not when they’re prancing affectedly around in yellow dresses with bows in their hair like little miss buttercup – although there are some men (i.e. Cavaradossi) who clearly do find this behaviour attractive. I think it really worked. Also, as it went along, the facade began to crumble, and she began to show little bits of real emotion, so that by the end she was actually a fairly sympathetic character.

As for the voice, I can’t say that Gheorgiu’s voice has ever really moved me (but to be fair, that’s the case for most sopranos) but I did enjoy this. I was really quite unconvinced in Act 1, but in 2 and 3 she really grew on me. Not being a linguist, I’m not fussed about things like pronunciation (although I’m fairly sure that Vissi d’Arte doesn’t end with the word ‘co-zoo’), and she really made a lovely sound on the high pianissimo bits.

But why is this opera called ‘Tosca’ anyway, when it was so clearly Scarpia’s show? Those who have read my reviews before may have noticed that I quite like Bryn Terfel, and also particularly like my bass-baritones in evil mode. Hence, I was looking forward to this one, and he did not disappoint. In fact, totally dominated the stage whenever he set foot on it, and sounded great. Fantastic stuff, even if, what with his white flouncy shirt and the candle-lit set, he did look a bit too reminiscent of Meatloaf in ‘I would do anything for love (but I won’t do that)’. Bizarrely, La Gheorgiou didn’t seem to appreciate Mr Terfel’s charms, and objected to him leaping on her on the dinner table, but maybe she was just worried about getting pie on her head.

I’d been looking forward to hearing Marcelo Alvarez live, so was disappointed that he was sick. Nicola Rossi Giordano from the second cast stood in at short notice, and (I’ll stick my neck out here) seemed rather nervous to be out there a week earlier than expected. At times he sounded great, but then at other times sounded rather strained, as if he had his shoulders up somewhere by his ears. Well acted, though, if that doesn’t sound like damning with faint praise (which it’s not supposed to be).

I also need to mention the orchestra. Although, unusually, there were a few moments in the middle where I didn’t think the tuning was quite spot on, there were also times when they sounded so good it gave me the shivers. The brass in particular caught my ear this time. Also, some lovely woodwind-y bits stood out, like the contra-bassoon, and the piccolo (a Mr Philip Rowson, who I really think I ought to send a fan letter to, I like his playing so much).

There was one other voice (apart from Terfel’s) that really stood out to my ears: Carlo Cigni as Angelotti. I’ve never heard of him before (yeah, I know, opera n00b I am) but what a lovely sound, in – sadly – such a little role! Will definitely be looking out for him in the future.

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