Scottish Opera’s Tosca Continues to Excite

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Puccini, Tosca: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Scottish Opera/ Francesco Corti (conductor), Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 31.5.2012 (SRT)

Tosca: Susannah Glanville
Cavaradossi: José Ferrero
Scarpia: Robert Poulton
Angelotti: Paul Carey Jones
Spoletta: Declan McCusker
Sciarrone: Nigel Boarer
Sacristan: David Morrison

Anthony Besch (director)
Peter Rice (designer)

Robert Poulton in Tosca; photo credit: Mark Hamilton

Scottish Opera’s Tosca is one of its best-loved current productions.  First seen in 1980, this is its seventh revival (I first saw it as a student in 2000) and it still looks great.  Sant’ Andrea della Valle looks bulky and impressive in Act 1, the Palazzo Farnese is quietly sumptuous and the rooftop of the Castel Sant’ Angelo looks large scale and realistic.  In fact, the whole production seems to speak of a more prosperous time when the company could afford rather more visual splendour than its current audiences have become used to.  Anthony Besch’s main idea was to relocate the action in 1943 when the political circumstances for Mussolini’s Italy were in many ways very similar to those of the Roman Republic in June of 1800.  Scarpia is head of the Fascist secret police, while Angelotti and Cavaradossi are political opponents dealt with like so many other enemies of the regime.  You have to remove the references to Bonaparte and Marengo, of course, but otherwise it works very well and the first entry of Scarpia’s thugs in Act 1 is still capable of sending a shiver down the spine.  The costumes, too, particularly Tosca’s, evoke the period of 1940s nostalgia without becoming retro and there is a well observed sense of period hanging over the whole staging.

Susannah Glanville, Jose Ferrero in Tosca; photo credit: Mark Hamilton

The production has had a wide array of singers over the years, and tonight’s were as fine as I’ve heard.  Susannah Glanville, making her company debut, has the right kind of voice for Tosca, bright and clear with a pearly edge.  Her duets with Cavaradossi were full of emotion and she inhabits convincingly the character’s terrible dilemma in Act 2, though Vissi d’arte was a little underplayed.  José Ferrero was a big-voiced Cavaradossi, thrilling in the climaxes, most notably the cries of Vittoria in Act 2, though in both his big arias he had a tendency to attack from below the note.  Dramatic honours go to Robert Poulton’s Scarpia, gravelly of voice but always secure in tone and compellingly exciting to watch and listen to.  The smaller roles were also very well taken, especially Paul Carey Jones’ lyrical Angelotti.  The only disappointment was the rather thin chorus at the end of Act 1, meaning that the Te Deum felt underwhelming.  The orchestra played with full-blooded Italianate  passion, though I wasn’t keen on Francesco Corti’s hell-for-leather conducting, which sounded rushed and over-hasty.  This worked well for the dramatic moments of the torture scene, but it meant that the love music in the outer acts never had sufficient room to breathe.  Still, that doesn’t diminish the fact that this remains a compelling and exciting night at the opera.  Catch it while you can: after seven revivals, who knows if you’ll get another chance?

Tosca continues at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre until Saturday 2nd June, and then travels to His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen until Saturday 9th June.  Full details of Scottish Opera’s 2012-13 season can be found at

Simon Thompson