Baron Scarpia is the chief of police in Rome in 1800 when the Neapolitans were ruling the city. Feared by many for his violence and contempt for his immorality, Scarpia retains the greatest dislike of the painter Cavaradossi for two reasons: their opposing political views and the fact that Scarpia yearns for the opera singer Tosca, who loves Cavaradosí.
The opera begins with the escape of the former Romanian consul Angelotti from Castel Sant’Angelo, where Scarpia has held him as a political prisoner. Kavaradosi offers Angelotti a place to hide, but Scarpia guesses what happened and arrests the painter, asking him to torture him to reveal his hiding place.
He also brings Tosca to his office where she can hear her lover’s cries.
It’s all too much for Tosca, who tells Scarpia what he needs to know. Troops are sent to capture the fugitive and Kavaradosi is sentenced to death, but Scarpia promises Tosca that the execution will be fake if she allows him to deal his evil way with her. But as usual, Scarpia, in his lust, failed to dispose of his dinner knife.
Tosca catches him and kills him. Angelotti, Cavadossi and Tosca themselves do not survive either, but Puccini, as always, gives us such a good sound of death scenes that make a great opera.
ENO ran into a major problem on the first night of this production when American baritone Noel Pooley was unable to sing the role of Scarpia due to illness.
Nevertheless, he agreed to play the role on stage, even uttering the words beautifully sung by the English baritone Roland Wood.
At first, this ventriloquist verb appeared unusual, but once we got used to it, the double verb seemed to work very well, excellently conveying both the singing and the acting, the angry malice of the part.
Irish soprano Sinéad Campbell-Wallace and British tenor Adam Smith played the two lovers, Tosca and Cavadossi, very well, especially in the duo where their voices blended perfectly.
Campbell Wallace gave a superb performance of her most powerful and most famous songs, vissi d’artewhen she sings about her simple life devoted to art and love after Scarpia offers her the terms of his treacherous deal.
Normally, this song is only performed with Scarpia looking smugly from a distance, but this time director Christophe Lowe brings him close enough to touch and grope as she sings it. I think this detracts from the intensity of the song.
Lowe’s production in general had good and bad points. In the opening chapter, the role of Sacristan in the church where Angelotti ran away and painted by Kavaradosi is given more prominence than usual, giving transgender American baritone Lucia Lucas a great opportunity to show off her acting abilities and great voice.
However, I didn’t really understand the addition of an additional role in the form of a young, non-lyrical, non-speaking assistant to Kavaradosi who was walking around the podium transporting the furnishings.
I suppose he gave the other characters someone to direct their speech towards, but it seemed wrong to include him when Cavaradossi and Angelotti were plotting together.
Also, usually, the last verb occurs exactly at the place of execution, which perfectly conveys the mood.
In this production, he begins in Kavaradosi’s dungeon where he is visited by Tosca, then they move to the front of the stage and a curtain falls behind them, allowing them to remain alone together during a change of scene, and finally, the curtain rises over the execution.
In the end, Tosca looked like she was in the wrong place and had to make her way across the stage for her dramatic suicide jump from the ramparts. The jump was done well, but someone from the execution squad had definitely caught it before you got there.
But my criticisms are all minor points compared to the general excellence of the singing, acting and sensitive playing that the orchestra, led by conductor Leo Hussein, provided. Tosca this was an excellent return for ENO.
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