Tosca Redux

Castel SantAngelo, credit Wikipedia

Tosca Redux

Tosca, Opera in three acts by Giacomo Puccini, libretto by Luigi Illica & Giuseppe Glacosa, first revival of the 2008 production, directed by Stephen Barlow, City of London Sinfonia conducted by Matthew Kofi Waldren, Opera Holland Park, June 1st 2024, reviewed by Leslie Jones

Mario Cavaradossi, depicted in this production as a scruffy, left-leaning street artist, and Floria Tosca, an opera diva dressed to kill, make a somewhat unlikely couple. Sixteen years on, Amanda Echalaz, as Tosca once again, now “brings to the character the added patina of a watchful, maturing woman capable of jealousy” (Claudia Pritchard, Culture Whisper, 20th May 2024). Perhaps it is her age that makes her uncertain of her lover’s loyalty. For as Alexandra Wilson observes, Tosca is “jealous and neurotic, capricious and demanding”, a far cry from Mimi in La Bohème (‘Toxic Machismo and Pungent Irony’, Official Programme). And jealousy is a weakness that Scarpia, chief of the state police and an astute psychologist, is only too eager to manipulate. Iago, as he observes, had a handkerchief with which he befuddled Othello. “I have a fan”, he triumphantly proclaims, to wit, that of the Marchesa Attavanti, the sister of the political fugitive Cesare Angelotti, who Cavaradossi is protecting.

Stephen Barlow, the director of Tosca, notes that given the length of time since this production last appeared, this is “a re-visit rather than a simple revival”. There have been certain changes, accordingly. The performance is set in 1968 during elections and “authoritarian crackdowns”. Populists such as Vitellio Scarpia, “a would-be rapist and ruthless manipulator of a cowed and gullible people”, are “stocking fears while offering easy solutions” (Gary Naylor, Broadway World). Scarpia (Morgan Pearse) is “the champion of cleanliness, order and morality”, “a most commanding creep” (see Boyd Tonkin, ‘Passion and Populism’, the 29/05/2024). “Thank heavens”, Naylor pointedly remarks, “nobody of so flawed a character could ever run for election in a democracy in 2024”.

In a review of Tosca at Royal Opera in 2014, tenor Roberto Alagna’s underwhelming performance of Mario Cavaradossi was referred to (Quarterly Review, ‘Tosca by Numbers’, May 21 2014). We were reminded of Richard Burton’s comments on acting in his Diaries, edited by Chris Williams. “I am easily bored”, Burton confided, “I am excited by the idea of something but its execution bores me”. On one occasion, Burton relieved the tedium by playing Hamlet as a homosexual. On another, he recited “To be or not to be”, in German. Roberto Alagna is “a prodigiously gifted singer”, but sometimes he seems to only be going through the motions. José de Eça, in contrast, received a warm reception for his rendition of ‘Recondita armonia’ (albeit not the five minute ovation that Franco Corelli once famously enjoyed). A similar comparison could be made between Amanda Echalaz’s spirited performance of the role of Tosca at Opera Holland Park and that of Ukrainian soprano Oksana Dyka, admittedly a technically very accomplished artist, in the afore mentioned production at Covent Garden.

Tosca was one of the first operas that your reviewer attended, at Opera Holland Park, many years ago. In 2024, Puccini’s timeless masterpiece delivers once again.

Dr Leslie Jones is Editor of QR

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1 Response to Tosca Redux

  1. David Ashton says:

    Another well-chosen beautiful illustration – in contrast to some of the ugly, stupid and/or ideological revisions of classical opera and drama.

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