Who wouldn’t want to be Tosca? Over the years, sopranos of all sorts, along with the occasional mezzo, have taken on the title role in Puccini’s thriller. Aleksandra Kurzak must be one of the few Toscas to have started her career as a coloratura, having made her big break in 2004 as Olympia at the Met. Having sung roles like Gilda, Gretel and Violetta, Tosca is certainly Kurzak’s heaviest Met role to date, following successful forays into heavier repertoire in Europe. She’s not your typical Tosca but she’s canny enough to make it work, and her lyric soprano brings a youthful freshness to the role.

Aleksandra Kurzak (Tosca)
© Karen Almond | Met Opera

That’s not to say Kurzak doesn’t provide the necessary verismo thrills – though her high Cs slice through Puccini’s heavy orchestration, it was her pungent lower register that was the happy surprise of the evening. Her middle voice has filled out beautifully, though it still lacks the refulgence one expects in the long lines of “Vissi d’arte”, and her frequent descents into chest voice revealed surprising power. Though the outbursts of Act 2 pushed Kurzak to her vocal limits, she was skilled enough to incorporate this into her dramatic interpretation – rather than the typical grande dame, her Tosca was a young woman thrown into the most extreme of circumstances. It’s a thrilling if risky performance – Kurzak was audibly tired by the final act, though she’s smart enough to pace herself better as the run progresses.

Michael Fabiano (Cavaradossi) and Aleksandra Kurzak (Tosca)
© Karen Almond | Met Opera

The greatest success of the evening was Michael Fabiano’s Cavaradossi. Like Kurzak, he started his career in lighter roles, though by now his is a proper spinto. At full throttle, he fills the hall with burnished, ringing sound, but he approaches the role more lyrically. When he lets his voice ring, it’s stunning – “E lucevan le stelle” was wonderfully paced, introspective and brooding with some spectacular high pianissimi. But at times he pushed harder than he should, resulting in some tight high notes that landed just below the pitch. Dramatically, he looks every inch the dashing young revolutionary, and had wonderful rapport with Kurzak’s Tosca. There’s a moment in Act 3 where he realises that Tosca has been fooled and that his mock execution will be a real one – you can see the optimism drain out of his face, and when he clings to Tosca before being taken to the firing squad, it’s heartbreaking. 

Aleksandra Kurzak (Tosca) and Michael Fabiano (Cavaradossi)
© Karen Almond | Met Opera

Luca Salsi was a late replacement as Scarpia, and he certainly relished playing the part of the villain. A hulking, charismatic presence, he has the ability to induce fear with just a glance, and was genuinely frightening in his groping of Kurzak’s diminutive Tosca in Act 2. Out of the entire cast he made the most of the text, though he too frequently resorted to barking out the words. The rest of the cast was strong, with Patrick Carfizzi reprising his hearty, affable Sacristan, and Rodell Rosel and Christopher Job displaying some wonderful physical comedy as Scarpia’s henchmen.

Carlo Rizzi’s conducting was competent if not revelatory, effectively keeping everyone together and taking care not to cover his lyrical cast. The same could be said about Sir David McVicar’s production, inexplicably set on a sideways incline. It’s a typical big-house production, with imposingly attractive sets and all the assorted Tosca paraphernalia – tiara, candles and crucifix included – that make for an easy revival. Still, there remain some inexplicable moments: why does Tosca suddenly see the portrait of Attavanti, after it being in full view for the first half of the duet? Why does the chorus of milling tourists suddenly line up, at an angle, inside the alcove for the finale of the Te deum? Nevertheless, a satisfying evening, showing that even after all these years, Tosca has the ability to surprise.