Jonathan Kent's production of Tosca does what it says on the tin, and in the capable hands of revival director Andrew Sinclair tells the story plain and simply which for most opera goers is enough, but for those of us who prefer a little more dramatic verisimilitude, well – we'll just have to look elsewhere.
Paul Brown's designs are generally effective but for me the abstract design for the ramparts of the Castel Sant'Angelo still looks out of place compared to the naturalistic reproductions of the church of Sant'Andrea della Valle (Act One) and the Palazzo Farnese (Act Two).
Returning for the third time as Tosca, Austrian soprano Martina Serafin presents us with a powerfully sung and acted diva. Thankfully she avoids any unwanted histrionics, cuts an elegant figure on stage and whilst there may be a little too much metal in the voice (she is an acclaimed Wagnerian after all), there's nothing arty or mannered about her singing. She may lack the sense of abandonment and impetuousness that Kristine Opolais brought to the role in the last revival, but there's still much to enjoy from her performance.
Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko certainly throws himself into the role of Cavaradossi, although on the first night his voice took time to settle, as he seemed to be pushing the voice unnecessarily in the first act, but by the second he'd managed to get his voice to do exactly what he wanted, resulting in two thrilling cries of "Vittoria!" which pinned us all to the back of our seats. His plangent rendition of "E lucevan le stelle" set the seal on a notable role debut at the House, but dramatically sparks failed to fly between him and Serafin's Tosca.
As Scarpia American baritone Scott Hendricks cuts a diminutive figure in comparison with other incumbents of the role in this production, and whilst the character's obsession with Tosca's hair (which was a major character trait of Michael Volle's Scarpia last time round) has thankfully been eradicated, he fails to conjure up a figure who caused "the whole of Rome to tremble" – indeed this Tosca would have eaten him for breakfast in Act One. His voice is a couple of notches too small as well, but he improves greatly in the second act and his sparring with Serafin's Tosca was genuinely thrilling and creepy in equal measure.
It's a shame that conductor Daniel Oren opts for such sluggish tempi, as there are times in each of the three acts where things almost grind to a halt, but thankfully the orchestra is on top form – no mean feat after such a gruelling season.