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Cosseted by Robespierre

RODERIC DUNNETT visits London's Royal Opera House
for a special performance of 'Tosca'


It's almost 40 years since Franco Zeffirelli's production of Tosca was first seen at the Royal Opera House on 21 January 1964. Since then it has been tweaked and polished up by John Cox, though the production as a whole still seems like an old warhorse. Can a staging almost forty years old still have the same impact today? Yes and no.

Designer Renzo Mongiardino's interiors -- the dark but luminous interior of Sant'Andrea della Valle (here a spacious basilica, recreated like the real thing on the spacious opera house stage); and the wonderful Etruscan terracotta splendour of Scarpia's office in the Farnese Palace -- do wonders for this Tosca. In each, the decor almost becomes a character, especially in Act II, where Mongiardino's sheer style and artifice -- tapestried chairs, doors, busts, bosses, table doily, chest, candelabra, high workchair, stylish rear screen -- conspires with Sergei Leiferkus' astonishly restrained, and thus all the more cynical, Scarpia to stifle Tosca by its sheer weight.

Luciano Pavarotti in the 2002 Covent Garden production of 'Tosca'. Photo © Bill Cooper

For this was a Tosca of heavyweights : Leiferkus as a dapper Scarpia -- chilling on his Act I entry, sinuous in his wooing, appalling in his sudden near-rape; the American Carol Vaness as an initially suspect but latterly superb Tosca; and Luciano Pavarotti (no less) as Cavaradossi, a role he first made his own at the Royal Opera in April 1977 (partnering the great Bulgarian soprano Raina Kabaivanska). Pavarotti suffered a close family bereavement the very day before the opening. That he flew back to take part is a tribute to his professionalism, and to his sense that this London stage appearance was, indeed, a special occasion.

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Copyright © 17 January 2002 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK





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