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13th March 2023

Review: Opera North – Tosca

Opera North’s stunning adaptation of Puccini’s Tosca was tense and thrilling
Review: Opera North – Tosca
Robert Hayward as Scarpia and Giselle Allen as Tosca with Richard Mosley-Evans as SciarronePhoto: James Glossop

Words by Maria Plakhtieva

Despair and Revenge, Love and Obsession, All before the Madonna!

Having a chance to see Puccini’s opera in the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, my expectations were a bit biased. However, I held my breath in excitement and amusement for the whole three hours of the play.

The theme of political corruption, excessive police power, and repression of activists seems today as relevant as it was years ago. Baron Scarpia (Robert Hayward) with his men, Spoletta (Alex Banfield), Sciarrone (Richard Mosley-Evans), and others do not raise pleasant feelings towards police. Booing at the curtain call instead of cheering cuts the ear, however one can easily understand why the audience gives them such a reaction.

Scarpia is a complicated baddie. He is not just in love with Floria Tosca (Giselle Allen) but obsessed. He struggles between power and desire to possess Tosca, who rejects him because she wants Mario Cavaradossi (Mykhailo Malafii) – a painter. As Robert Hayward says himself, “Scarpia’s completely in love with Tosca, not just in the sense of ‘I want to have her’; I mean that he absolutely adores her.” These complicated emotions and wanders of man’s feelings are well shown onstage so a spectator may develop a mixture of disgust and sympathy for a poor man, who can’t command his feelings and offers Tosca an unacceptable bargain.

As was noted many times, the implicit question of “How far would you go to save the one you love?” is all in the air. It is mainly addressed to Tosca, who appears to be a playful and jealous singer and then behaves unexpectedly even for herself in a moment of despair.

There is a big contrast between Tosca in the beginning and the Tosca we see at the end. She comes to church, prays, and believes that she is a good human being because she “Ever in pure faith, [I] brought flowers to the altars”. However, she then kills for her love without hesitation, and the only light she sees is an escape with her Cavaradossi.

Giselle Allen’s soprano and music played by the Opera North’s Orchestra (conductor Garry Walker) gives you goosebumps, especially during the spellbinding ‘Vissi d’arte’ (‘I lived for art’).

Making it a joke at the beginning, an action happens “All before Madonna”. In Act I, we see part of the dome, which Mario Cavaradossi works on. Though he paints saint Mary Magdalene in church, he ridicules religion and religiosity. His own and only angel is Tosca, whom he worships and lives with.

In Act I, part of the dome with eyes of Magdalene seem to be part of the scene, as if a participants in the action. In Act II, the dome is finished, and Magdalene observes all deeds of Baron Scarpia and all corrupt offers and actions, which were made in his room. In the final Act, the dome tips vertically, and the fresco depicts a sad and forgiving look of Magdalene, facing the audience.

The dome, combined with lighting by Lee Curran, becomes a sky full of stars as the story heads towards the final tragedy. This set up gives you a feeling of being in the middle of a church and following the change of day and night as well as experiencing the change of happiness and despair and grief.

Opera North’s production keeps your full attention on the stage. You sit in such a tension and thrill that at the moment of the final massacre, you jump and feel everything poor Tosca, lost Scarpio, or desperate Cavaradossi may feel. Seeing this drama is a worthy evening full of an unforgettable music and performance, which keeps you on the edge of your seat.


Opera North’s Tosca tours the UK until April 1.

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