Freddie De Tommaso made waves last year when a halftime jump-in made him the first British tenor to sing Cavaradossi at the Royal Opera since Charles Craig in 1963. Now De Tommaso is back at Covent Garden to sing the role and this time the cast includes Natalya Romaniw, the first British soprano to sing Tosca at Covent Garden since Gwyneth Jones owned the part back in the 1970s. Indeed, a pair of Brits have not sung opposite each other in Puccini’s opera here since 1954.
Now boasting its 12th revival in 16 years, Jonathan Kent’s handsome period staging retains a compelling air of veracity: the chiaroscuro chapel with its half-glimpsed Te Deum; the candlelit gloom of Scarpia’s lair; the bloodstained dawn and pall of gunpowder as the final curtain descends. Kent’s sure-footed storytelling even allows wiggle room for singers to add a personal touch to familiar characters.
Romaniw is a fine Puccinian. Her diva is playful, kittenish even, with little of the envious harpy and an underlying sense of unaffected piety. Furious and sickened by Scarpia, when she kills, she kills for God. Her refulgent soprano possesses great warmth, especially in the plush middle register. The top is steely, but with a fragility that brushes the heart. Vissi d’arte was choked with emotion, in a good way. She’s helped by Daniel Oren’s sensitive reading of the score, strong on dynamics, if occasionally short on elasticity.
De Tommaso is the real deal, an 18-carat voice with bronze undertones that turns heroic above the stave. His gleaming E lucevan le stelle rang true with lashings of good old-fashioned heart. He and Romaniw were vocally well-matched, sparking off each other throughout. Add the mesmerising Erwin Schrott’s immaculately sung, reptilian Scarpia, and this piece of historic casting becomes a Tosca to treasure.