United Kingdom Puccini, Tosca: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Scottish Opera / Stuart Stratford (conductor). Theatre Royal Glasgow, 26.10.2019. (GT)
Original Director – Anthony Besch
Revival Director – Jonathan Cocker
Set and costumes designer – Peter Rice
Lighting – Robert B Dickson
Mario Cavaradossi – Gwyn Hughes Jones
Floria Tosca – Natalya Romaniw
Baron Scarpia – Roland Wood
Sacristan – Paul Carey Jones
Cesare Angelotti – Dingle Yandell
Spoletta – Aled Hall
Sciarrone – Lancelot Nomura
Shepherd Boy – Barbara Cole Walton
Gaoler – Steven Faughey
When Scottish Opera announced the new 2019-20 season, it was clear that the highlight would be the re-appearance of the 1980 staging of this popular masterpiece; in its ninth revival! The basis for the production’s success is its adherence to the opera’s essential drama and its refusal to gamble with the audience’s expectations.
Puccini’s ‘shameful little shocker’ was given its first performance in Scotland in 1910 by the Moody-Manners Opera Company with Fanny Moody herself assuming the title part with her partner Cavaradossi taken by Joseph O’Mara with William Dever as Scarpia, conducted by Richard Eckhold. Strangely, Tosca enjoyed few stagings until after World War II when Alexander Gibson brought a Sadler’s Wells production north in 1957. Most surprisingly, the opera has never been heard at the Edinburgh International Festival. There have been touring productions by Moldavian Opera in 2002 and English Touring Opera in 2006 to the Perth Arts Festival. Anthony Besch’s 1980 staging has been among Scottish Opera’s most successful productions and reveals how high the company’s standards were back in 1980.
The first act opened to reveal the church of Sant’ Andrea della Valle with great pillars and a massive gate entrance to the Attavanti chapel. The opening scene was finely done with some amusement in the planting of the key in a secret place and well-acted by the Sacristan of Paul Carey Jones. Comedy continued in the scene between Floria Tosca and Cavaradossi when she points at the likeness of her rival on the painter’s portrait of Mary Magdalene.
Here were a trio of singers who could appear on any stage for their characterisation and outstanding vocal talents. The Floria Tosca of the young Welsh soprano, Natalya Romaniw, was outstanding both for her magnificent identity with her heroine and her brilliant vocal gifts. Her lyric soprano was revealed in full in Eugene Onegin here two years ago and her performances now reinforces her great promise shown then. The Cavaradossi of Gwyn Hughes Jones was excellent with a beautiful lyrical flowing tenor voice lovely to hear and a perfect match for Tosca. The Scarpia of Roland Wood was fine both in voice and acting with his voice in particular distinguishing his masterly characterisation. In other roles Paul Carey Jones as the Sacristan was well portrayed and his part ably supplemented by the Angelotti of Dingle Yandell.
The sets and costumes depicted Italy in the 1930s. The closing scene of Act I was immensely colourful and enormously effective embellishing this fine production with Swiss Guards in their Vatican colourful attire, joined by the fascist police, beautifully dressed ladies, the pope, and choirboys, with Mussolini himself appearing before the curtain went down. In Act II at the Palazzo Farnese, the deftly handled drama with the torturing of Cavaradossi and the relationship shifting between Tosca’s pleading for her lover and the humiliating entreaties to Scarpia was shown tremendously well. Roland Wood’s characterisation of the chief of police was excellent showing all the consummate evil of a fascist ruler. Romaniw’s singing of ‘Vissi d’arte’ was performed magnificently, showing how much she has developed as a true soprano lirico. Romaniw acts as well as sings giving a true portrayal, something not always realised on stage, and her stabbing of Scarpia was marvellously well executed. In the final scene in the Castel Sant’Angelo, the sets were quite spectacular reproducing the great sculpture of the castle. Here again, the choreography was swiftly enacted driving forcefully the terrible outcome, and the aria ‘E lucevan le stele’, as well as, the scene between the two doomed lovers proved a fine conclusion.
This was the last performance of this Tosca before it goes on tour through Scotland and there was excellent chemistry between the singers and well-directed action on stage, all of which bodes well for the success of its further performances. The orchestra were on their best form also, with no hints of poor ensemble or off-tuning under the baton of Stuart Stratford in his debut in this opera.
A sign of the brilliant achievement of this staging was that throughout its Glasgow run of five performances the Theatre Royal was sold-out – a tribute to the outstanding quality of Scottish Opera’s productions in the seventies and eighties during Sir Alexander Gibson’s period here, as well as, their current success.
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