Tosca

Music by Giacomo Puccini, libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica
Opera and Ballet International and Ellen Kent
Opera House, Manchester

Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca has fair claim to being the greatest opera of its kind. It features three of the finest arias in the repertoire and even has one of the more interesting and plausible storylines in the art form.

Mario Cavaradossi is a successful painter, working in Rome in the early nineteenth century. Imagine him as a George Clooney of the Napoleonic age—he likes women and they like him. Despite having an eye for female beauty generally, Cavaradossi sings of his commitment to his current love—the passionate Floria Tosca. Unknown to Tosca, Cavaradossi also has a more profound, politically-committed side.

When a revolutionary, Cesare Angelotti, escapes the torturers of Baron Scarpia, Chief of Police, Cavaradossi immediately offers him support and sanctuary.

Besides being the prime instrument of a repressive state, the unscrupulous Scarpia also has a taste for forcing his attentions upon unwilling women. Knowing nothing of her lover’s links to the revolutionary movement, Tosca’s inclination to jealous rages is easily exploited by Scarpia. She unwittingly aids him in the capture of Cavaradossi.

A singer by profession, the unfortunate Tosca is not a political animal—she has, she tells us, devoted her life to art and to love. Be that as it may, there is nothing she will not sacrifice to save the man she loves from torture and execution.

I confess here that Tosca, for all kinds of reasons, is my favourite Italian opera. I only wish I could commend this Ellen Kent production to you. Sadly, I cannot.

This staging seems to belong to a bygone era, with the cast striking exaggerated poses and declaiming their arias directly to the audience. On top of this, the set is rickety, to the point where some of those performing seem more conscious of the danger of coming a cropper than of staying in character.

Much of the acting is better suited to pantomime than to the staging of an opera in the twenty-first century. With his grand posturing, his riding boots and his black velvet pants, Vitalii Liskovetskyi’s Cavaradossi is more Principal Boy than macho heart-throb. Small wonder that Alyona Kristenyova’s very decent rendition of the title role, struggles to create any sense of chemistry between them.

Put bluntly, this company needs stronger, more imaginative direction, and probably some acting lessons. Even Vladimir Dragos, whose villainous Scarpia is the star of the night, would benefit from more insightful direction.

The ticket prices at Manchester’s Opera House may lag way behind any in the capital, but no regional audience should be paying £40 (and in some cases more) for this standard of production.

Even the curtain call clunks. It takes far too long for the three principals, plus conductor, to return to the stage (no other member of the cast appears), and the call itself goes on way beyond what the audience is comfortable offering, as if someone has forgotten how to drop the curtain.

I have in the past seen back-to-back touring shows by Ellen Kent’s company, and it has sometimes struck me that there is an A show and a B show (so wide was the gap in quality between the two productions). It is to be hoped that tomorrow evening’s Carmen features the A team.

Reviewer: Martin Thomasson