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‘Tosca’ 2004/11/06

Posted by Dave in Music, nights out, Reviews.
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Scottish Opera's 'Tosca' at the 'Theatre Royal' is the version envisaged by the late Anthony Besch — so I simply had to see how this thriller could be changed from the original Napoleonic occupation of Rome to the fascist era of the 1930s under the direction of Aidan Lang.

'Tosca' is always a risk to stage; it can all-too-easily turn into a farce — so it's always worth while turning up in case 'it all goes terribly wrong'!

The great beauty, 'Floria Tosca' was played by Russian Soprano star, Elena Zelenskaya, who made her debut at the 'Bolshoi' with this role — and she was excellent at the singing, but for me the acting lacked 'oomph' (and the role demands 'oomph' in spadeloads). While not exactly a 'great beauty', at least Elena was plausible — well, at least she was not a big fat old 'Opera Diva'! Obviously the passmark she had to beat on the night was the 'Vissi d'arte' aria — and from me she gets damn-near top marks (especially if the eyes were closed — clear, balanced, controlled, emotionally-judged and accurate as a CD recording).

My personal favourite was Matthew Best's 'Barone Scarpia' — especially the entrance over the powerful 'Scarpia' theme and the stupendous 'Te Deum' which closes Act 1. Wonderful! One wonders what he could do with a real firebrand of a 'Tosca' to play against. I remember seeing him years ago as 'Wotan' in Wagner's 'Die Walkure', he was good then, and seems to be improving with age.

'Mario Cavaradossi' was played by John Hudson rather well — not fabulously — but more than sufficient to satisfy everyone. He passed the test of the tenor arias, 'Recondita armonia' and 'E lucevan le stelle' which everyone would know very well from CDs and Classic FM broadcasts.

I love this work, and adored the Placido Domingo Live TV version from a few years back — that sets the benchmark for me. I've got it on videotape.

In the end, I would say that I prefer the work to remain in it's Napoleonic period… not because I am a purist, but because a costume drama brings out the acting and suits better the settings. I didn't like the fat girl in 'Scarpia's' single bed by the window — an unnecessary addition at best, but to my mind a detraction (how could his ardour be so strong for 'Tosca' when he's just been satisfied moments before?). This, among other things, raised more questions in my mind than anything else.

Staging was fine — the opening scene made me wonder how a painter could work facing the wrong way, and the procession seemed to me to be travelling across — rather than down the aisle. The final scene setting was excellent — except that dawn never did arrive (maybe the bulbs blew?).

But that's just me being picky; the whole night was great fun, good music, and I like what the Theatre Royal have done with the two side plasma screens for the English translation! Goodbye to the supertitles above the stage (which could not be seen in certain seats — now everyone can follow the plot).

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