I’m sitting under the vastly impressive dome of the London Coliseum, and thinking how well the Italian Renaissance architecture echoes the very Roman setting of Tosca. My favourite opera is back at the ENO and I couldn’t resist seeing this wonderful production again.
From the first dramatic blast of the orchestra, I lean forward in my seat and the goose pimples form all over my arms. Perhaps it’s that music, combined with the historical setting which makes me want to see this performed again and again, and why I can listen to it so many times and never tire of it.
There has been chatter for as long as I can remember about Opera having had its day…that it’s elitist and exclusive, and suffers as an art form for it. And despite attempts to win over more vast audiences with bargain tickets and film directors taking on rather forgotten productions, I think it will be productions such as this one that will do best in keeping opera alive.
Acclaimed soprano Catherine Malfitano has staged an utterly thrilling and awe inspiring Tosca, with no theatrical tricks and no gimmicks, and she has done so to perfection. This production is all about Tosca….the stirring music, the intense story, and one of the greatest female characters of all time. Claire Rutter fills this part effortlessly and to hear her is divine.
Anthony Michaels-Moore provides a chilling Scarpia and as his voice meets those of the choir in the Te Deum at the end of the first act, I’m reminded of why I come to the opera and always will. Amongst the set of fragmented, layered, ever decreasing circles, simple chiaroscuro in the lighting design echoes and heightens the drama. Shadows are projected upwards and away across the stage, framing the diva and surrounding her with conspiracy and foul play…..in a pool of blue she sings of her piety and begs…..and as she opens the door to her lover’s torture, the burning light from beyond would have us believe she has opened the gate to some hell.
Like a season of 24, the action is played out for us minute for minute, and this I think is why it engages us so emotionally and thrillingly. How could anything be more dramatic than taking us on a journey with such a story, having us witness each string-quivering moment of contemplation, consideration, anger, spite, love, tragedy?
This opera sings to me more than any other, and if it’s not just because of Puccini’s incredible score, it is perhaps because it offers me so many of the things I yearn for in art and theatre….Lust, betrayal, history, politics, religion, fate and love are all at work here. And what could make a more powerful recipe than that?