Composer: Giacomo Puccini with Librettist Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica
Director: Edward Dick
Conductor: Antony Hermus
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
Opera is an art form that demands grand themes and high passion to be most effective. Well, stories do not come more melodramatic than the doomed love affair between the diva Tosca and the painter Cavaradossi.
Tosca (soprano Giselle Allen) lives for her art and, as a devout Christian, performs charitable works. But when her lover Cavaradossi (tenorRafael Rojas) gives aid to Angelotti (John Savournin) an escaped political prisoner, the lovers become involved in the grubby world of political corruption. The brutal chief of police Baron Scarpia (baritone Robert Hayward) captures and tortures Cavaradossi and offers to free him on condition that Tosca becomes his lover. The offer forces Tosca to question the fundamental precepts upon which she has lived her life and pushes her to extreme action.
Toscais a fascinating opera full of contrasts. The refined world of art clashes with the grim reality of political repression and pure love is balanced against perverse sexual domination. The contrasts are not just thematic with the opera offering strong roles for soprano, tenor and baritone.
For a tragedy, the score is misleading with Act One opening on a jaunty, skipping note, suitable for a comedy caper movie but concluding with a gorgeous spiritual Te Deum. The second Act is much more foreboding dominated by Robert Hayward’s malevolent villain and leading up to Giselle Allen delivering Tosca’s heart-rending declaration of her loss of faith. The third Act takes a more reflective tone with Rafael Rojas’s tormented aria as Cavaradossiawaits execution.
The themes of political corruption, bullying and sexual exploitation make Toscaparticularly relevant to the present day with the election of Donald Trump and the growth of the #MeToo movement. Director Edward Dick sets a strikingly contemporary atmosphere with Tosca forced to watch her lover being tortured over the internet and gangs of political assassins prowling the stage in dark combat gear.
Yet the director can still be melodramatic even playful. The opening scene of Angelotti’s escape is staged as if out of a Mission Impossiblemovie with John Savournin descending from the roof on a rope. The entrance of Baron Scarpia is emphasised by a dramatic blast of music that would not be out of place in a thriller.
Tom Scutt’ s dark set is sleek and very modern but also serves a spiritual purpose. Although the set changes for each of the three Acts a common feature is the massive painting of a woman’s face observing proceedings like a judgemental deity.
Opera North’s production features a trio of excellent performances. Giselle Allen is an earthy seductive Tosca vamping up her entrance in the first Act and, with Rafael Rojas, drawing out the terror of people under a repressive regime. Robert Hayward is a brutal, pig-ignorant bully dry-humping his bed as he plans to force Tosca to submit and making clear that Baron Scarpia is motivated by the crude need to dominate rather than to seduce .
Dark and sharply relevant this is a fine version of a classic opera.
Runs until 16 November 2018 | Image: