Tosca Review – Scottish Opera 16 October 2019

If the fascists came to power, how far would you go to stand up to them? Would you save a prisoner on the run? Would you betray a friend? Would you be prepared to die for love?

Scottish Opera’s endlessly revived production of Tosca asks all these questions and more.

Thirty nine years ago, almost to the day, Anthony Besch’s glorious production first came to the stage, updating Puccini’s melodrama to Mussolini’s Italy. Jonathan Cocker has blown fresh life into it as the revival director and proves that it still has something to say today.

The sets look gorgeous, the singing is strong and Stuart Stratford’s conducting managed to bring off the difficult trick of making the orchestra sound expansive and rich without ever swamping the singers.

In Act 1, Puccini takes us to church. From the first appearance of Dingle Yandell as Angelotti a political prisoner on the run it was clear that singing was going to be one of the strongest features in this revival. Both he and Gwyn Hughes Jones as Cavaradossi, Tosca’s love interest brought an easy confidence to their singing.

The only big trouble in this production is the sheer volume of liturgical faux pas that have been seen before and still haven’t been corrected. People don’t cross themselves a dozen times whilst reciting the angelus. Nor do they turn their backs on the central statue of the Virgin Mary whilst doing so. Nor do bishops process anywhere other than at the back of a procession and when they do, they carry their crosiers in their left hand the better to bless those around them with their right hand. Women were not singing in choirs in Italian churches in the 1940s and when naughty choirboys misbehave (and they do!) they don’t do it like that. For a production that is so detailed and so deliberately set in one place and time, all this does rather jar.

But on to Act 2, and Tosca’s showdown with the villain of the piece, Baron Scarpia. Natalya Romaniw was a revelation, bringing light, energy and bitter pathos to the great aria Vissi d’arte. It felt as though the whole theatre was still – the only movement being the tears gently rolling down a number of faces in the audience. Meanwhile, Roland Wood never seemed to have quite the click of the heels or stamp of the jackboots that one might have expected of a fascist tyrant. A bit more badness would have gone a long way.

By the time we reached the battlements for the final Act, the audience had been on an emotional rollercoaster. Tosca brought it all to an end – betrayed and alone but utterly defiant to the last.

It does seem astonishing that a production that has been revived so many times over nearly 40 years could still pack in a strong audience and still have so much to say. This production is reassuringly the same but times have changed. With the rise of the far right there is a need for art to stand up to oppression wherever it is found. Even opera has a role to play and this production offers courage and inspiration. The fight against tyranny isn’t over and this revival feels all too timely and more relevant than ever.

Rating: ★★★★☆

This review was first published by Scene Alba Magazine

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