Review: ‘Tosca’ at the Royal Opera House

Jonathan Kent’s poignant production of Giacomo Puccini’s opera opens in Covent Garden

Gerald Finley as Baron Scarpia and Adrianne Pieczonka as Floria Tosca. Photograph: Catherine Ashmore/courtesy of the ROH

This season, the Royal Opera is staging its ninth revival of Jonathan Kent’s production of Giacomo Puccini’s tragic opera Tosca. Politics, violence, love and sacrifice are in full force in Puccini’s stunning music, conducted on respective evenings by Dan Ettinger and the one and only Plácido Domingo.   

Set in Rome in the year 1800, Tosca tells the story of the painter Mario Cavaradossi, played with great feeling by Joseph Calleja, who hides Cesare Angelotti (Simon Shibambu), a political prisoner on the run from the ruthless Baron Scarpia, chief of police, calculatingly played by Gerald Finley. All goes awry and it is left to Cavaradossi’s lover, Tosca – sung with all the required passion by Adrianne Pieczonka – to bargain with Scarpia, which leads to unforeseen consequences.

Adrianne Pieczonka as Floria Tosca. Photograph: Catherine Ashmore/courtesy of the ROH

Based on Victorien Sardou’s play La Tosca, the production is notable for its naturalistic mise en scène, created by the late Paul Brown, whose recreation of 19th-century Italy sparkles with well-known Roman landmarks such as the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle and the interiors of the Palazzo Farnese and Castel Sant'Angelo, portrayed beneath enveloping Italian-ink blue skies dotted with stars. Spectacular lighting designs by Mark Henderson bring a warm and welcome glow of Italy to a wintry London audience. 

Adrianne Pieczonka as Floria Tosca and Joseph Calleja as Mario Cavaradossi. Photograph: Catherine Ashmore/courtesy of the ROH

As Cavaradossi, Calleja brings the house down with ‘E lucevan le stelle’, while Pieczonka as Tosca conveys her emotional upheaval as she sings of her love for Mario and how far she is willing to go to ensure his freedom in Puccini’s much-loved aria ‘Vissi d’arte’. As the unrelenting baddie Scarpia, Finley dominates every scene, manipulating all of the characters, including Tosca, whom he desires and will do almost anything to possess.

The cast of ‘Tosca’. Photograph: Catherine Ashmore/courtesy of the ROH

This is a production that transports audiences back to a time and place in which flesh-and-blood characters must decide how far they are willing to go to stay true to their political and emotional beliefs. They pay a heavy price and, as we leave the theatre, which of us can remain unmoved, or indeed unchanged, by their choices?  

‘Tosca’ is at the Royal Opera House, London, until 3 March. 

***

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