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<<  -- 3 --  Roderic Dunnett    Cosseted by Robespierre


The voice has lost some of its sheen : the two overwhelming differences are that it now emphasises a slight edge, which seemed wholly consonant with the drama to come; and that phrases he now achieves in one burst seem shorter than he would have essayed twenty, or even ten, years ago. It's not quite shortness of breath, but it comes across as that.

Carol Vaness in the title role of the 2002 Covent Garden production of 'Tosca'. Photo © Bill Cooper

Thus Act I's 'Qual'occhio' flowed less than it might have (the links being supplied by an on-form Covent Garden orchestra under the Spaniard Jésus López-Cobos). Nor, in marked contrast to Pavarotti, was Vaness with the conductor -- in Tosca's Act I recitatives -- contrast her marked precision in Act III. Within the orchestra, the flute had already emerged as the evening's hero : a striking entry for Tosca (with strings) was followed by those wonderful, low Debussian flute touches (plus oboe and strings) prefacing Cavaradossi's aria with atmospheric open fifths, which Puccini invokes at key moments. The shimmering orchestral patterns which precede the firing of the gun announcing Angelotti's escape are just one of countless moments of inspired genius in Tosca.

Sergei Leiferkus as Scarpia in the 2002 Covent Garden production of 'Tosca'. Photo © Bill Cooper

When Scarpia arrives, he dominates, artfully lit like a David or a Delacroix by lighting director John B Read. His upstage entry, like that of both the other principals downstage, is so weak as (presumably) to have been planned. With a couple of cronies and bodyguards, Scarpia simply turns up. Suddenly, unexpectedly, there he is. Leiferkus's wooing, once he accosts Tosca, is not sinuous, but rather galant. Yet we learn what kind of a man Scarpia is from a key remark : 'We shouldn't have fired that gun. It tipped him off.' Scarpia is subtle, a classic top secret agent : he works by anticipating the other side's thinking. Being wooed by him ('I will see those blue eyes melt') is a bit like being cosseted by Robespierre.

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Copyright © 17 January 2002 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK





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