The Royal Opera House’s Tosca reviewed by Christopher Walker

The Royal Opera House’s Tosca is an outstanding smash hit. A top-class production under a wonderful conductor Oksana Lyniv, writes Christopher Walker.

Most importantly, some of the best singing you will hear anywhere in the world from Anna Pirozzi and Freddie de Tomasso. If you love Puccini, you must fight to get a ticket.

A lot of theatres are in chaos at the moment, with Omicron causing endless disruptions and cancellations. The National Theatre has postponed the opening of its new musical Hex until November, and barely a week goes by without some other production folding.

So, I must take my hat off to the Royal Opera House. Not just for keeping going (apparently testing singers every day) but also for pulling off one of the best productions in years.

Snooty Wagnerians sometimes dismiss Puccini as ‘easy listening’ dealing with light, “fluffy” subjects. How wrong they are.

As this Tosca amply demonstrates, Puccini owes a lot to Wagner in his use of character leitmotifs, and the opera’s subject matter is certainly not fluffy – depicting torture, murder, and suicide. If this were the Globe Theatre the trigger warnings would take half an hour.

Anna Pirozzi (Floria Tosca) and Freddie De Tommaso (Mario Cavaradossi) in Tosca by Puccini @ Royal Opera House. ©Tristram Kenton

The action takes place in Rome in the middle of the Napoleonic wars, when to republican Italians the French were the good guys.

A brief republic led by seven consuls including Angelucci (Angelotti in the opera) has been overthrown by monarchist forces, and the evil head of secret police, Scarpia maintains an iron grip on the city.

This kind of political disturbance was very familiar to Puccini’s contemporary audience. The premiere itself was threatened by an anarchist bomb, and the conductor was instructed to play the national anthem in case of an emergency. This was fortunately avoided, although there was a disturbance in the stalls.

In Jonathan Miller’s famous production, he transcribed the story to the fascist period in Rome which worked well. Director Jonathan Kent chose a more traditional approach. His production is 15 years old, and now going through its 11th revival, but it has lost none of its punch.

There are some particularly nice touches from designer Paul Brown, including the giant mural in act one and the impressive statue of St. Michael defeating evil, which dominates the second act and sums up the dynamic between the characters.

That dynamic here is fabulous, thanks to a truly stellar cast.

The Royal Opera House has pulled out all the stops – or rather all the stars.

The first act sees Angelotti hiding in a church where Cavaradossi is painting a giant mural, under the watchful eye of his jealous lover, the diva Floria Tosca.

Anna Pirozzi (Floria Tosca) and Freddie De Tommaso (Mario Cavaradossi) in Tosca by Puccini @ Royal Opera House ©Tristram Kenton

Even Angelotti is played by Yuriy Yurchuk, a rather big star for such a small role which gives you an idea of what’s going on here.

As for the two leads, performances don’t get much better than those delivered by Anna Pirozzi as Tosca, and Freddie de Tomasso as Cavaradossi.

De Tomasso’s voice is simply enormous and his first great aria Recondita armonia brings the house down.

It is one of those electric moments in an opera house which music lovers remember all their lives.

Anna Pirozzi gracefully allows De Tomasso to dominate act one, knowing act two is hers with her wonderful Vissi d’arte.

She has just as powerful a voice and wears her tiara with pride.

Her conflict with Scarpia (an excellent Claudio Sgura), as he tortures her lover and offers survival only for sex, is well played and grips the audience.

When Cavaradossi sings “And the stars shone…” he neatly summed up an outstanding evening.

Personally, I’d sleep with Scarpia to get a ticket, otherwise try -–

Pictured: Anna Pirozzi (Floria Tosca) and Freddie De Tommaso (Mario Cavaradossi) in Tosca by Puccini @ Royal Opera House.
©Tristram Kenton




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