The week in classic: Tosca; Handel’s Messiah with the Hanover Band | Classical music


An umpteenth cover of a popular work in a classic production – guaranteed pleasure, unexpected revelation. that of Puccini Tosca is back at the Royal Opera House, the 10th time for staging Jonathan Kent in The Lavish Creations of Paul Brown (Revival Director Amy Lane), with cast changes too numerous to follow. The only solace for those trying to put on a show under the current precarious circumstances is that a lot of the attendees know how it goes. Bass Jeremy White has sung the role of the character of Sacristan, with skillful genius, since production was new in 2006. There is no doubt that he could now take on all the parts if needed.

Familiarity is part of the fun. A devotee will know exactly when the hero Cavaradossi, more republican than artist, it seems, will finally do something with this idle brush; when the choir of the Royal Opera (here with an excellent voice), the children too, will fill the double staircase to sing the great Te Deum; and when Tosca stabs the evil Scarpia, while trying not to trip over her awkward long dress. A telling moment in this staging is when the heavy red and gold curtains fall slowly, smoothly, ominously, precisely in sync with the velvety, menacing chords at the end of Act 2.

There was always a chance that this race would be, against all odds, remarkable. And indeed it is. Ukrainian Oksana lyniv, first woman to conduct at the Bayreuth Festival, making her Royal Opera debut, recorded her fiery presence with the opera’s massive opening roar, the orchestra responding with surging energy, eloquently taken solos , all shaped with rhythm and authority. Like Tosca, the experienced Italian soprano Anna pirozzi Grown into the role with each act, her voice warming as she made the delicate transition from a fickle diva to a woman capable of murder. Claudio Sgura had a presence and a strong voice as Police Chief Baron Scarpia, although the villainous-style play could be mastered.

Anna Pirozzi (Tosca) and Claudio Sgura (Scarpia). Photograph: Tristram Kenton / The Guardian

The real excitement, however, was for Cavaradossi, Freddie De Tommaso, making his debut in the role, the first British tenor to perform the role in Covent Garden since 1963, and at 28 the youngest. He had already slipped away a few days earlier, making headlines by jumping halfway for Brian Hymel, feeling uncomfortable on the opening night of the other cast. Half Italian but raised in Tunbridge Wells, De Tommaso – remember his name – is fast becoming a celebrity.

Trained at the Royal Academy of Music, first as a baritone and then as a tenor, he won the International Plácido Domingo Tenor Prize in 2018 and was quickly made registered with Decca. With lively Italian tones, but with the strength to rise above the orchestra in the mids, De Tommaso does not hesitate to show how loud he can sing, safely and without effort. This prolonged and dazzling high note on “Vittoria! was, to put it bluntly, treaty. Why not… it was a rare thrill to hear a tenor voice of this ease and brilliance. The new Pavarotti? We have heard this before. This time it may be true.

Handel’s Messiah, first performed shortly after Easter in 1742 but now an Advent tradition, delves deep into the rhythm of the musical season. The hold of the work, for performers and listeners, is tenacious. Think of the 3,600 people who took part, with an arduous recording at home, at Self-Isolation Choir’s Messiah Online in May 2020, repeating the exercise this year. Last week, the Hanover band, small forces, conducted on harpsichord by Andrew Arthur, courageously scheduled five live performances in 10 days.

The second, in the gratifying acoustics of Kings Place, went by, as the text says, in the blink of an eye: not because the tempos were fast – yet they were – but because the 16 singers, 18 period instrumentalists and four accomplished soloists (Tara Bungard, Timothy Morgan, Bradley Smith, Edward Price) communicated with such urgency and virtuosity. At the end of the often confusing listening year of 2021, the final fugue “Amen,” with celestial trumpet and thundering drums, was a fitting revelation.

Ratings (out of five)
Handel’s Messiah

  • Tosca is in performance at the Royal Opera House in London until February 22


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