Passion, drama and outstanding music – Tosca has all the elements for a great night out at the theatre.
Despite first being performed in January 1900, Tosca doesn’t feel like it’s aged a day. It still addresses classic themes of politics and religion, but it’s been brought bang up to date with the addition of laptops, walkie-talkies and earpieces. What’s more, the story’s been shortened from five acts to three, to keep up the rip-roaring pace, just like a modern thriller.
Tosca is sung in Italian, but rest assured there are English subtitles on easy-to-see screens both left and right of the stage. What’s more, Opera North has kept a constant sense of energy in the production, with characters leaping, running and sliding around the stage, so you’ll never have a dull moment. Especially when the plot is more like a political thriller set to music than a classic opera.
So what can you expect from the story? Well, it’s a classic tale of good vs evil. It opens with political prisoner Cesare Angelotti climbing into a church to escape the villainous Baron Scarpia. Realising his old friend Mario Cavaradossi is the one painting the church’s ceiling fresco, he asks for a place to hide. By helping him, Mario ends up putting himself and his lover, the singer Tosca, in the Baron’s sights – leading to lust, betrayal and cold-blooded murder, with a climax that will leave your jaw on the floor.
The story might have been written over 100 years ago, but it’s as relevant as ever, most notably the comparisons to #TimesUp. The idea of women being lusted after by powerful men is nothing new, but the middle act where a reptilian Scarpia cajoles and threatens Tosca from his bed, draped in a loose bathrobe, can’t fail to bring to mind Harvey Weinstein. This time, though, the woman has the last laugh. As Tosca appears to submit, crawling towards him, the audience is the first to see the knife glinting behind her back, just before she strikes.
Aside from the story, there are two other main elements that make this opera such a fun evening. The first is the music. Puccini’s operas are well known for their melodies, but Tosca might be the best of the lot. From soaring refrains to crashing crescendos, these are tunes that will be stuck in your head for the rest of the week.
But it’s the singers that truly bring the arias to life. Robert Hayward’s booming bass-baritone is perfect for Scarpia’s skullduggery, while Rafael Rojas’ soaring tenor makes us root for Mario. It’s all topped off by star-of-the-show Giselle Allen, who gives a skin-tingling performance as the titular Tosca, alternately conveying love, jealousy, pain and fury through her stunning soprano.
Adding to the music’s power are the gorgeous visuals and set designs. Stripped back but effective, the opera has three elements for the three acts. The first is a giant circular gold ring that forms the church’s newly painted ceiling, before you move to an oak four-poster bed where Scarpia lures Tosca in Act II. Finally, the gold ring is flipped and transformed to become Mario’s prison cell in the final act, with the hole serving as the window where Tosca makes her doomed leap at the climax.
It’s impossible to mention the visuals without touching on the costumes. As a famous singer, Tosca was the diva of her day, so her dresses are as eye-popping as you’d imagine. They range from shimmering Swarovski crystals to folds of smooth satin, so the first time Giselle Allen throws her coat aside to belt out an aria, her stunning dress adds to the sense of Tosca as a force of nature.
Tosca is a classic opera that’s been brought bang up to date by Opera North, with music that’s stood the test of time and a story that feels as new as ever. So, if you’re after a gripping tale of love, lust and power, Tosca is not to be missed.
Tosca is showing at Leeds Grand Theatre until Saturday 13th October 2018. Tickets start from £15.Cover image credit: Richard H Smith