Music: Giacomo Puccini
Libretto: Giuseppe Giacoso and Luigi Illica
Director: Edward Dick
Reviewer: Dawn Smallwood
Tosca marks the start of Opera North’s autumn season, a special time as the company will have been founded exactly 40 years ago this November. Tosca is a popular opera that made its very first performance in Rome back in 1900, while Opera North first staged it in 1979. The opera makes a welcome return visit with this new eagerly anticipated modern production, under the care of Edward Dick.
Based on French dramatist Victorien Sardou’s La Tosca, the play is adapted to Puccini’s musical composition with text by Giacoso and Illica. The opera introduces three key characters; Mario Cavaradossi (Rafael Rojas), a painter; Floria Tosca (Giselle Allen), a singer; and Baron Scarpia (Robert Hayward), Chief of Police. Explored are the strong themes of love, jealousy, corruption, oppression, abuse of power, murder and suicide, set amid the political unrest in Rome at the beginning of the 19th Century. The narratives themes unravel intensely when firstly Cesare Angelotti (John Savournin), a political prisoner, escapes and hides in the church where Cavaradossi is painting a piece of Mary Magdalene.
Puccini’s melodramatic musical score weaves the narrative alongside Italian libretto enriched with deep emotions and complex political and religious notions. It is tragic but deeply reflective and the story invites the audience to think about relationships today, particularly with the church and state, power misuse and corruption, and the present political spectrum, and the strong emotions these situations bring. Many will no doubt know the popular aria Vissi d’arte which Allen sings beautifully and convincingly and the memorable E lucevan le stelle.
The staging works extremely well, particularly the breathtaking sets (Tom Scutt) especially one of the renaissance themed church interior during Act One. It works hand in hand with the dramatic intrigue and builds up in the story to its final crescendo with well-timed intervals adding to the anticipation. Lee Curran’s incredible lighting is creatively and expressly used to link the melodrama, especially the final plot, throughout the opera.
As expected, the company of Opera North puts on an excellent performance, under the coordination of Maxine Braham, and supported by its loyal Chorus of Opera North and its young artists who appear as the children in the ensemble. The leads portrayals; Allen’s Tosca, Hayward’s Scarpia and Rojas’ Cavaradossi absolutely stand out and are appreciatively acknowledged at curtain call at the end of the performance.
Tosca is a tragedy but it is also a reminder of how relevant opera still is today. Opera North takes pride in linking their productions contextually, and how one can think beyond the performance on the stage, and how it fits into the present scheme of things. This is an incredible and unmissable production that successfully marks the start of what will become part of an exciting repoirtore this season.
Reviewed on 16th September 2018 | Image: Richard H Smith