Tosca – Giacomo Puccini - Royal Opera House – Covent Garden

On 12 September 2000 I saw Tosca, Puccini’s opera, at ROH, libretto by Giuseppe Giacoso and Luigi Illica, conducted by Carlo Rizzi. Staging was by Zeffirelli. The first performance took place in Rome in 1900.

Angelotti is an escaped political prisoner hiding in the Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, where Mario Cavaradossi (an artist and republican) is painting. He helps Angelotti to escape. When Scarpia (Chief of Police) arrives on the scene he is suspicious and has Cavaradossi arrested and sent to the torture chamber. Scarpia has become attracted by Floria Tosca, a singer and Cavaradossi’s mistress. Tosca is jealous of the portrait he is painting suspecting that he has used the Marchesa Attavanti as inspiration, whom he used as a model for his portrait of Mary Magdalena. He admits that the painting is inspired by both Tosca and the Marchesa Attavanti (Angelotti’s sister).

In “Recondita armonia” (“Strange harmony of contrasts, this delicious blending”) he sings of the two women. Scarpia promises Tosca her lover’s liberty in return for her favours. In despair Tosca offers a prayer “Visi d’arte, visi d’amore (Love and Music).

Cavaradossi is brought in by a firing party and the gaoler gives him permission to write a farewell letter to Tosca (after Cavaradossi has bribed him by giving him his rings). Memories swell up in him and he muses on a lovers’ meeting with Tosca that they once had “when the stars were brightly shining” (E lucevan le stele). Tosca has meanwhile granted pretend consent to his wishes, but as soon as he has written the order for a mock execution she stabs him with a knife.

At dawn she explains to Cavaradossi what has happened. He can hardly believe that Tosca has killed Scarpia (O dolci mani). She tells him of arrangements she has made for his escape after the mock execution. When the firing is over she hurries to his body and finds to her horror that she has been tricked and that he is dead. She realises her murder of Scarpia has been discovered. As a police agent attempts to arrest her she climbs the prison walls and leaps to her death.

Roberto Alagna, playing Tosca on stage for the first time, seemed to look at the audience most of the time instead of being involved with what was going on stage. He had a bad case of “tenorish egomania” changing Puccini’s lines out of all recognition, preferring to hang on to his favourite notes for far too long, whether or not they made musical or verbal sense. He rarely got to grips with the character of Cavaradossi as a man – a painter with dreams and passions.

Anthony Michaels-Moore as Scarpia came across more as a pussycat or a thoroughly nice chap rather than a villain. Angelotti was performed by Roderick Earle; Floria Tosca, a celebrated singer, was performed by Catherine Malfitano. Bryan Secombe was the Gaoler.

Tosca was also relayed to the crowds outside by a big screen. Miss Malfitano said from the platform beneath the screen that because of the full moon the night was very special. Alagna waved to the crowds from the platform and descended from the platform to hug his wife, soprano Angela Georghiu who was watching the performance. He greeted fans in the front row (for the first time there was actually 10 rows of seats!) and shook their hands. They all loved it. The outdoor audience – young lovers, the elderly and the wheelchair-bound, waiters watching during their break, people at extra tables at nearby restaurants – had been waiting since teatime. BP – the sponsors – must have been pleased as they are putting ?810,000 into a three-year live relay performance.


Verinha Ottoni.


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