Jonathan Kent’s straightforward production, with handsome designs by the late Paul Brown, has framed some memorable performances since its unveiling in 2006 with Romanian superstar Angela Gheorghiu as Tosca. This wasn’t one of them, though the singing was consistently good.
Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais sings Tosca for the first six performances (Gheorghiu sings two in June). She looks the part – a lustrous black wig and clinging gown suggest Roman glamour – and her soprano grows in power and glitter from a low-key start in Act I. But with Vittorio Grigòlo as a Cavaradossi who clearly loves himself and his ringing tenor more than anyone else on stage, Opolais struggles to create a believable connection – a glaring weakness in an opera built round a love triangle.
Luckily, Bryn Terfel has the voice, the presence and the acting chops to make an impact. As sulphurous chords bellow from the orchestra, his menacing bulk appears centre stage in a marvellously melodramatic moment. His lust for Tosca is expressed through purring asides and lingering fingers down her arm – the sexual frisson is palpable and emphasises the lack of chemistry between Grigòlo and Opolais.
In smaller roles, young bass-baritone Michael Mofidian is touching as the fugitive Angelotti, and Hubert Francis a chilling Spoletta.
The orchestra tears into the big dramatic moments with gusto, led by conductor Alexander Joel, a Puccini expert who shares his talent with his half-brother Billy.
The ingredients are all there – now the first night is over, the lovers must relax and start working as a team.