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TOSCA at Milton Keynes Theatre

Published by: Louise Winter on 5th Apr 2018 | View all blogs by Louise Winter

Reviewed by Quentin Fox

4th April 2018

TOSCA RIchard Huber Smithimage copyright Richard Huber Smith

Puccini was, in his time, derided for not being genius enough. Such a brilliant talent, contemporary critics said, should be shooting for the heaven of musical invention rather than dwelling in the verismo gutter of small lives and sordid passions. The Welsh National Opera’s production of Tosca explodes that notion and reveals a composer who was not only musically innovative but an absolute master of modern narrative, almost filmic in its construction and pace.

Tosca’s themes are simple: love and loyalty. How far, Puccini asks, would you go to save someone you loved? He poses this universal question a specific place and time. Set on a single day in the Rome of 1800, the background to the tale is one of political uncertainty. The Eternal City became a republic under Napoleon who drove out the forces of the monarchy and the Pope. With Napoleon’s retreat, these fragile states were re-occupied by the forces of reaction intent on revenge and rounding up the usual radical suspects.

A republican, Angelotti, breaks out of prison, pursued by Scarpia, head of the secret police, and rushes into a church to seek help from his old comrade, the painter Cavaradossi. In hiding his friend the painter arouses the suspicions and insecurities  of his jealous lover, the singer Floria Tosca. Scarpia tricks Tosca into going to Cavaradossi’s house where he is arrested while Angelotti escapes.

Scarpia tortures Cavaradossi but Tosca, in order to save her man, reveals Angelotti’s whereabouts, But with the news that Napoleon is victorious and set to return, Scarpia condemns Cavaradossi to death. Tosca begs Scarpia to save her lover's life. In return for staging a mock execution and arranging safe passage for the pair, Scarpia, who delights in rape, demands that Tosca yield to him. As he touches Tosca, she stabs him to death.

So where are we? A murderous woman on the run is making a bid for happiness that depends on the word of a duplicitous secret policeman and a firing squad armed with blanks? Crumbs. The politics may seem remote but you know that this is not going to end well…

The production matches the simplicity of the themes and is a bitter-sweet delight. In the title role Claire Rutter (soprano) brings a real sense of coquettishness in her first scene which emphasises her eventual transformation into the resolute and tragic woman at the end. While her acting is strong, questions have to be asked about the power of her voice, though her rendition of the aria Vissi d'arte was well received. As Cavaradossi, a superb Gwyn Hughes Jones (tenor) conveys tenderness, anguish and resignation by turns. In his hands E lucevan le stelle is hugely moving. His stagecraft is magnificent, too: a single look to the audience during Tosca’s jealous hissy fit in the first act is enough to say ‘I know, she’s barmy, but I love her.’

Mark S Doss sings Scarpia with a sense of restraint which makes him less of a pantomime villain than a malign but human figure who uses his position to slake his lusts. Praise, too, is due to Michael Clifton-Thompson who offers up a splendidly weaselly Spoletta, Scarpia’s henchman.

The WNO orchestra performs with real panache under the baton of Timothy Burke and the sets offer a richness that makes the production unforgettable. The church of Sant'Andrea della Valle, Scarpia’s room in the Palazzo Farnese and the battlements of the Castel Sant’Angelo are all rendered on a monumental scale emphasising the real power and the glory in a tale of small people.

This production offers us a Tosca for the 21st century: we’ve seen what power and chaos have done in Iraq and Syria and the debasement that has resulted in #MeToo. That’s the enduring genius of Puccini.

Tosca plays MK theatre April 6th 7.15pm. The conductor will be Carlo Rizzi 
and Cavaradossi will be played by Hector Sandoval
Don GiovanniThursday 5 April 7pm  
La forza del destino Saturday 7 April 6.30pm
Box office 0844 871 7652
Booking fee applies







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