Roberto Frontali as Scarpia in Tosca, Royal Opera House 2016 (Photo by Catherine Ashmore)
The ever popular Tosca returns to the Royal Opera with a revival of the 2006 Jonathan Kent production. The production features the acclaimed Angela Gheorghiu and Amanda Echalaz in the role of Floria Tosca each singing in five of the ten performances. Angela Gheorghiu has been widely acclaimed in the role since her performance in the 2006 Royal Opera production and Amanda Echalaz first played the role here in 2008 before returning to widespread critical acclaim in 2013.
Tosca is one of Giacomo Puccini’s most popular operas and was first premiered at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome in 1900. The work is based on Victorien Sardou’s 1887 play, La Tosca, which enjoyed great success with Sardou’s collaboration with actress Sarah Bernhardt.
The opera is set in Rome in 1800 when the Kingdom of Naples’s control of Rome is threatened by Napoleon’s invasion of Italy. The first act is set inside the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle where a desperate and tired Angelotti (Yuriy Yurchuk) former consul of the Roman Republic and now an escaped political prisoner runs into the church looking for sanctuary and hides in the Attavanti private chapel.
An elderly and grumpy Sacristan (Donald Maxwell) enters and begins cleaning. He is then joined by painter Mario Cavaradossi (Najmiddin Mavlyanov) who arrives to work on his picture of Mary Magdalene. Although he is intrigued by the woman who is the inspiration for the painting, he professes his love for the singer Floria Tosca ( Amanda Echalaz ). Angelotti and Cavaradossi, are old friends with similar political sympathies and Cavaradossi agrees to help him escape, however they hear the voice of Tosca’s voice in the distance and Angelotti returns to his hiding place.
Najmiddin Mavlyanov as Cavaradossi, Amanda Echalaz as Tosca, Royal Opera House 2016 (Photo by Catherine Ashmore)
It is at this point when Tosca arrives and suspiciously asks Cavaradossi what he has been doing that the complex interplay between the main characters comes to the fore. Amanda Echalaz’s Tosca shows her jealous and passionate nature, whilst Najmiddin Mavlyano’s Cavaradossi shows his charismatic character in finding pleasure in charming and teasing the excitable Tosca.
This pleasing interplay is cut short by the sound of a cannon that signals that Angelotti’s escape has been discovered. From this moment the tone changes from one of frivolity to menace with the entry of Baron Scarpia, the hated Chief of Police ( Roberto Frontali ) and his henchman Spoletta (Hubert Francis). Scarpia begins to realise that the search for Angelotti will enable him to get rid of Cavaradossi and further his designs on Tosca. Roberto Frontali’s Scarpia indicates the character is more than a pantomime villain by exposing his motives are not driven by love but more from his enjoyment of conquest and manipulation. At the end of the first act, The Royal Opera House Chorus enters the church singing the Te Deum, Scarpia staying on the lower level of the stage joins the chorus but makes it clear that his thoughts are not on God but on rather more base emotions.
Roberto Frontali as Scarpia, Amanda Echalaz as Tosca, Royal Opera House 2016 (Photo by Catherine Ashmore)
The opera moves into darker territories in the second and third acts with torture, murder and suicide which illustrates why Tosca is not just a simple melodrama but rather a consideration of the ways that fate can play cruel tricks even on the righteous and difficult choices are sometimes undertaken in desperate circumstances. These dilemma’s makes the role of Tosca pivotal to the plot and places a great responsibility on the acting and singing ability of leading lady . Fortunately in this performance, Amanda Echalaz’s Tosca convinced in a wide range of emotions, her heartfelt rendition of Vissi d’arte was greatly appreciated by the audience. She was ably assisted by Najmiddin Mavlyano’s passionate but principled Cavaradossi and Roberto Frontali’s Scarpia who portrayed the arrogance of someone who was used to abusing his position for his own ends, manipulating Tosca to break her spirit. In his moment of triumph, Scarpia seems to show genuine surprise when he finds Tosca’s kiss is particularly deadly.
Amanda Echalaz as Tosca, Royal Opera House 2016 (Photo by Catherine Ashmore)
Like many operas, Tosca has no happy endings but any sadness is dispelled by the consideration that you have seen a wonderful production that plays to the strengths of the piece. Andrew Sinclair’s finely paced direction was matched by the orchestra energetically led by Emmauel Villaume. Paul Brown’s grand designs with large statues evokes the crumbling of a decadent old order and Mark Henderson’s atmospheric lighting reflected the light and shade of the story.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Tosca is Puccini’s score, in many ways it defines the characters simply but adds layers of complexity that shows their humanity or sometimes lack of it. This is part of the reason for the popularity of Tosca, it can be enjoyed on many levels whether you are new to opera or a regular operagoer. Since its premiere, Tosca has been performed over 450 times at the Royal Opera House and the enthusiastic audience reaction for this high quality production indicates that it will remain a firm favourite in the Royal Opera repertoire.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
For more information or to book tickets, visit the Royal Opera House website here
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