Scottish Opera’s Tosca brings Puccini’s ever popular opera to The Festival Theatre Edinburgh for all too short a run (14th, 17th, 21st, and 23rd November ) of this revival by Jonathan Cocker of the re-imagined modern classic by original director Anthony Besch.
Here, proving that a truly classic story (libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa) can be re-imagined in many different ways and still hold true to its core story line, this version of Tosca is set in 1943 Rome just as Benito Mussolini and his political party are nearing the collapse of their regime, and everything here just works so well, fitting together like this is how Tosca was always meant to be.
As a composer, Puccini has always been one of my favourites, and it is always intriguing to me how so much of his music just feels like it has been composed for a film score and, despite being first premiered in 1900, Tosca also has this contemporary “soundtrack” feel to it. That feeling of watching a film unfold is present throughout this production as three beautifully designed sets, one for each Act, by Peter Rice give the illusion of something very solid on stage. Very carefully designed atmospheric lighting (Robert B Dickson) and close attention to period costume and detailing very much, when combined with Puccini’s wonderful music (Stuart Stratford conducting), give this production of Tosca a very cinematic feel to it.
Every stage production or film production needs a good cast to complete the illusion of taking you to another place, and here to another time too, and Scottish Opera have missed nothing out on the production “tick list” here as everyone involved on stage here, and our lead performers in particular, are just perfect for their roles in this story.
Creating for us on stage a truly believable Tosca in every way you can imagine is Natalya Romaniw, and her on stage performances with Gwyn Hughes Jones (equally perfect in the role of Mario Cavaradossi) are a treat to watch and. somehow, both make you believe that their relationship is a real one, and the opening scenes of an over jealous Tosca with Mario are just perfectly timed and performed. That illusion of reality to this relationship is vital if the villain of this story, Baron Scarpia, is to be believed as he manipulates events to bring Tosca into his clutches. Giving us a fine performance of one of Opera’s great villains and, from the look of it, enjoying every minute of his on-stage villainy, a powerful performance from Roland Wood. Nice performances too from Dingle Yandell (Angelotti) and Paul Carey Jones (Sacristan). A pity always that this story always allows us to see far too little of either characters.
Tosca is one of the great roles for any singer, but as well as the opportunity to put in a classic performance on the songs, and "I lived for art, I lived for love" in particular, this story allows Natalya Romaniw as Tosca to be one of the few very strong women in Opera, and Natalya clearly understand both the strengths and vulnerabilities of this woman and brings all of this out in her performance tonight.
If some of the music sounds a little more familiar than you perhaps expect too, Tosca is the original musical inspirational source that Charlie Chaplin used for the music to “Smile”.
Scottish Opera’s Tosca set in Rome, 1943 is a visionary re-imagining of a classic opera and with a high budget production, classic vocal performances and a wonderful story that holds your attention from start to finish as you are transported to another place and time is making a big statement here. If there are still tickets left, try not to miss this one.
Review by Tom King