This evening I was graced with the opportunity of attending my first opera and having thoroughly enjoyed the grand spectacle of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca, I hope that this premier event will lead on to many more of the sort.
Sceptical of what might be served up, I was half prepared for an over dramatic, taking-itself-far-too-seriously affair delivered by a gaggle women resembling Brünnhilde and some happy chappies that would not seem out of place advertising car insurance. How wrong I was. What Scottish Opera delivered was a feast of exquisite vocal performances, delightful melodies and all the drama that one might ever hope for in their usual evening of Saturday television. For a newbie to the opera audience, this production is the perfect all-rounder to tease the musical appetite. Even the odd sprinkle of delectable humour was thrown in to sweeten the deal. Had such treats not occasionally been lost in translation as a result of a marginally overly enthusiastic orchestra, I might say that this performance was perfection.
The curtain rises to reveal a church garden fashioned by the handsome set of Peter Rice’s design. The standard is already set high, merely by the splendour of the stage. Unfortunately, its standard is not reached as we meet the first two performers, escaped political prisoner Angelotti, played by Paul Carey Jones, and the Sacristan, played by David Morrison. It is not the delivery of these two performers that is the disappointment, though. They both give excellent (however short-lived) performances with strong ability and acting that remains authentic as a terrified Angelotti desperately seeks refuge and the Sacristan, unaware, goes about his daily work. It is the orchestra that becomes problematic in this first scene. Lush orchestrations boom from the pit and, although divine, drown out the singers’ vocals, especially credited singer Jones. This is a shame to say the least and should be cause for concern for orchestra leader Anthony Moffat.
It is from this point that we are introduced to the hero and heroine of the piece, Mario Cavaradossi, played by José Ferrero, and Floria Tosca, played by Susannah Glanville. The instrumental army below thankfully softens and the beauty of Puccini’s music is showcased. The Spanish tenor Ferrero creates a soft and tender character with a splendid voice as he describes his love for Tosca. As his beloved mistress, Glanville is exquisite. Teasing the audience; we first hear her voice off-stage before she makes her entrance, adorned in the first of her three outfits, each a gem of the costume department. The two lovers argue and the audience is treated to a rare moment of humour. The recitative tells of Tosca’s suspicion that Cavaradossi might be in love with another woman; a woman with blue eyes reminiscent of the painting that he works on. Tosca’s eyes are brown. Cavardossi is secretive towards his lover but only because he has, only moments before, assisted Angelotti with food and a hiding place. Glanville remains jealous and demonstrates impressive agility throughout and a playful nature which showcases the diva that is Tosca. This is most appreciated by the audience who gratefully chuckle at moments such as the starlet’s exciting line: “but give her dark eyes”.
Yet, this performance has a standout artist and it is not the titular character but rather Robert Poulton as the villain, Baron Scarpia. The phrase “the man that we love to hate” comes to mind. Immediately Poulton seamlessly creates the strength and authority that is required for the Chief of Police as he appears in a flash on the stage, immediately stealing every viewing eye. His gleaming black riding boots would be enough to have any convincing villain command the stage and Poulton is vocally excellent as he carries the shining performance of the opera as the menacing fascist. He is a man on the hunt for the escaped Angelotti and no-one will stand in his way.
It is in act two when Poulton’s Scarpia truly comes into his own before we he see him murdered by Tosca as she demonstrates that “girl power” was very much present in 1800. The interaction between the pair in the lead up to this climax was thrilling to say the least. The two have the audience on the edge of their seats as Scarpia seeks to bargain with Tosca for her love in exchange of Cavaradossi’s life. This duo left the partnership of Tosca and Cavaradossi as they duet in the third act somewhat in the shade where the striking singing was matched with a slightly forced adoration that should have fuelled the pair. Tosca unfolds her plan to save her lover from execution, having made a deal with her tormentor. Glanville’s intentions were obvious in her attempt to portray her love of Fererro but his return of this appears awkward. Perhaps he was trying to convey the broken man that Cavaradossi had been reduced to in these closing moments but he lacked great passion and masculine strength. However, when solo in the aria ‘Vissi d’arte”, Glanville is allowed to truly shine and this touching moment saw no lack of true sentiment. The lyrical aria showed Puccini at his finest and Glanville did not dishonour the great composer in the slightest. The orchestra complemented the heroine’s melancholic showstopper and both the bottom and upper notes of Glanville’s range held distinct purity and tenderness.
True to the original play by Victorien Sardou, Puccini gave his tragic opera a tragic ending. I shall not unveil this finale as I would highly recommend that lovers of fine music should fight for tickets to Scottish Opera’s Tosca. Even young people are sure to enjoy this opera. I was sceptical but no reason for such doubts survived the evening. The talent displayed in the piece is truly phenomenal and the revival director Jonathan Cocker should be deeply proud of what this company have created. Improvement is always possible but the beautiful costumes and set design, exquisite orchestra, complementary chorus, and of course the shining stars really bring this piece to life. Tosca is a dark romance and a crime thriller, bursting at the seams with allure. Regarded as one of Puccini’s greatest works, this bringing to life of the tormenting tale by Scottish Opera is a must-see.
Rachel Coll, aged 17
Francesco Corti, conductor
Edinburgh Festival Theatre
Thursday, May 31st 2012
Image: Mark Hamilton