Nearly 40 years have passed since the last time a British soprano sang Tosca at Covent Garden and that was the great Welsh singer Dame Gwyneth Jones. Now another Welsh star, Natalya Romaniw has taken that crown.
In what also marked the first pairing of British singers as Tosca and Cavaradossi in this Puccini opera at the Royal Opera since 1954 and the soprano’s debut, this promised to be a special Royal Opera evening. Then add the popular Erwin Schrott to this trio alongside Freddie De Tommaso and Natalya Romaniw in Jonathan Kent’s attractive, no-nonsense production.
The staging is true to the verismo of the Puccini opera, the half-light of a chapel in the Church of San Andrea where the artist is painting, the candle-lit gloom of Scarpia’s poisonous torture-chamber and macabre office and then the slowly breaking dawn on the ramparts of Castel San’Angelo. The action moves seamlessly in time and space within the production and fitting the darkness of the tale the stage never rises above a half-light gloom.
This canvas gives a fine setting for the characters to excel in their own stage craft and musicianship. While the direction is of course laid down, within the singers show their own personalities with a movement here and there, a gesture, a glance and subtle vocal nuances from within the score, sensitivity handled by Daniel Oren.
Natalya Romaniw and Freddie De Tommaso
Swansea-born Natalya Romaniw has developed into one of our new great Puccini sopranos at home here with Tosca but also a perfect Cio Cio San and Mimi in other houses. A confidence that other debut-makers would envy, she is secure in the role giving her the time to develop the drama of the role with charming chemistry and flirtatiousness matched with the famous jealousy in her relationship with the painter. This dramatically transforms in the horror of Scarpia’s palatial offices as her love, piety and then sheer hatred rips through the scene, with a Vissi d’arte that is measured, emotionally wrenching and displays her glorious voice.
That relationship in Act One and then the closing scene demands and received a standout tenor and Freddie De Tommaso delivers and then gives something more. This young man had the audience in rapture as soon as he began to sing. His duets with Romaniw were exquisite while his E lucevan le stella aria of Act Three was ravishing.
As the Chief of Police with no redeeming qualities apart from a fabulous singing role, Erwin Schrott oozed poison but was no pantomime villain. Puccini may have created a monster, but he gives his creation some gorgeous music.
This is what an opera performance should be, pure enjoyment from beginning and way past the end as it stays in your head and heart.
Images: Clive Barda
Natalya Romaniw Tosca interview: