We hadn't intended to see this first revival of Catherine Malfitano's production of Tosca at the London Coliseum. But we missed Claire Rutter's Tosca at Grange Park in the summer and we wanted to take friends to their first opera and this intelligently traditional staging seemed just the ticket.
I'm not quite sure what, but something has changed since the production's premiere, whether it be my perceptions or production details; probably a bit of both. But, the close of Act 1 apart, I found the production flowed better, the details fitted nicely and neatly and it seemed more satisfying as a whole. Of course the change in principals will have had an effect as well.
Claire Rutter was a feminine Tosca, very much the vulnerable woman rather than the grand diva. It was finely sung without too many big dramatics, she made Tosca quite touching at times but still capable of imperiousness. I suspect that Rutter might have benefitted from the cut and thrust of a more traditional, powerful Scarpia. Anthony Michaels Moore repeated his sensualist Scarpia to notable effect. But there was the odd moment (such as at the end of Act 1) when you just wanted his voice to be bigger, more dominant. But in Act 2, the long scene between Rutter and Michaels Moore seemed to need a bit more push from the baritone, a bit more bark (and bite). Sparks didn't quite fly and you felt that both artists were capable of it.
Gwyn Hughes Jones sang Cavaradossi with beautiful open Italianate tone and a lovely sense of line. This was a glorious Cavaradossi to listen to. Dramatically, Hughes Jones seemed a bit stiff though given his relative bulk it might have been sensible that he deliberately did not overstress the physical element. There was a genuine feeling of a relationship between Hughes Jones and Rutter, and Hughes Jones certainly made you aware that politics came first with Cavaradossi; if he and Tosca had survived, you felt certain that Cavaradossi would sooner or later move on.
There was a strong supporting cast with Matthew Hargreaves as Angelotti, Scott Davies as Spoletta, Graeme Danby as Sciarrone and Henry Waddington as a hilarious but touching Sacristan.
Stephen Lord conducted in a very singer friendly way; everything flowed nicely, it was beautifully paced but you never felt he was hurrying the singers.
And the close of Act 1. Well, as ever, the staging seems to make no liturgical sense, but then I have seen very few productions which get this scene right. (Anthony Besch's memorable and long lived production for Scottish opera is a notable exception).