Music: Giacomo Puccini
Libretto: Giuseppe Giacosa & Luigi Illica (with an English translation by Amanda Holden)
Director/Designer: Richard Studer
Conductor: Jonathan Lyness
Reviewer: Leah Tozer
On its turn of the century debut, Puccini’s opera about death, desire and deception was termed a ‘shabby little shocker’ by the press, but there’s nothing shabby about Opera Project’s co-production with Tobacco Factory Theatres. Staged in-the-round in this uniquely intimate space, the story of tempestuous soprano Floria Tosca, her liberal artist lover Cavaradossi and the cruel and corrupt chief Scarpia is told with an intimacy, emotional intensity, and expressive pathos only possible in such a space.
In a New York Times review of Victorien Sardou’s original play, Tosca was deemed ‘not much of a play, a mere outline at best, made to fit like a glove’ the talent of the infamous leading lady of the time, and although the former is perhaps still true, Puccini’s opulent score, played by Opera Project’s 12-piece orchestra and conducted with passionate flair by Jonathan Lyness, not only fits but fills the space to create a singular musical experience. There’s a striking simplicity to the staging, with its flickering candles, focused lighting, and black bars that shift from confession to confinement allowing the score and the singing to take centre-stage. Operatic asides – ‘he’s dead!’ – that often feel impractical work well in-the-round, and are particularly pointed in Act I when Scarpia’s plot is put into action: Cavaradossi’s supposed deception is ‘as I suspected’ sings Tosca; ‘the plan is affected’ Scarpia counters. Amanda Holden’s English translation of the original libretto is easy to follow and never feels forced, and even has moments of lightness amongst the tragedy, especially when Tosca asks her lover to make his muses’ eyes darker like her own. Yet, the drama is never overshadowed, with the looming threat throughout reaching a crescendo in Act II where the dramatic tension could be cut with a knife, and not just because Tosca does some cutting of her own.
Mari Wyn Williams’ gives a powerful, impressive vocal performance as Tosca, and her relationship with Robyn Lyn Evans – a revelation as the quietly charismatic and unequivocally likeable Cavaradossi, whose last lament is a moment of unequalled exquisiteness – in Act I flickers playfully like the candles all around them. She’s undoubtedly a diva, but there’s also an endearing naivety to her Tosca: her final scene, sung from behind the bars as she waits for the firing squad to advance on Cavaradossi, has a touching innocence that turns to tragedy when she realises she’s been fooled, although it feels there’s something missing in her physical performance, especially in a space where every subtlety is seen. Nicholas Folwell’s Scarpia, lit in stark spots or in the shadows, may not be, as he says, ‘a violent man’, but he is an unequivocal villain, even earning hisses from an audience abhorred by his evil. Matthew Buswell, Jonathan Cooke, and Tristan Hambleton complete the six-strong cast and provide stellar support to the main action, and so while the cast and space may be little and the story a shocker, in Opera Project’s impressive and intimate production Puccini’s Tosca has never felt less shabby.
Runs until 14 October 2017 | Image: Mark Dawson Photography