Tosca was originally a French play written by Victorien Sardou in the 19th century, later made into an operatic libretto by Italian composer, Puccini. One hundred and eighteen years after Tosca first premiered in Rome, Opera North’s 21st century production in the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, was absolutely phenomenal.
“Their voices truly projecting the deep anguish, jealousy, and desperate adoration felt by the lovers”
Directed by Edward Dick and conducted by Antony Hermus, the performance thrived on emotional intensity and dramatic tension. Susannah Glanville (Tosca) and Rafael Rojas (Mario Cavaradossi) put on an astounding performance, with their voices truly projecting the deep anguish, jealousy, and desperate adoration felt by the lovers, as they battle against the villainous Scarpia (Robert Hayward) and his agents who are on the hunt for escaped political prisoner, Angelotti (John Savournin). The power and intensity with which the performers sang, paired with the thrilling accompaniment of the orchestra, served to draw the audience into the politically and emotionally turbulent world of the characters.
One small criticism might be that some of the performers became difficult to hear during certain parts of the performance, particularly when they retreated to the back of the stage. This issue arose during less emotionally intense parts of the production where performers were not required to project their voices with as much intensity. However, the audience were provided with subtitles on screens to the side of the stage which conveyed key elements of the dialogue. Furthermore, the singing was not in English, so it made little difference when small fragments, on occasion, were slightly inaudible.
“The way in which very emotive scenes were peppered with tiny comical fragments in the first Act was very effective”
Despite this however, set designer Tom Scutt ensured that the atmosphere remained very intense throughout the production which kept the audience engaged. The performance was split into three Acts, each with a distinct stage layout. The most prominent feature was the beautifully painted dome that hovered above the set in the Act 1, and stood upright at the back of the stage in Act 3.
The set piece depicted an angelic close-up of Mary Magdalene praying, her huge blue eyes turned up faithfully to the heavens. The segment featuring Magdalene’s eyes was missing from the dome during the first Act and was instead poised on an easel on stage (for Caravadossi to work on), allowing the audience to see it more clearly. The focus on the woman’s beautiful eyes provokes Tosca’s first bout of jealous rage, which was a clever way to forewarn the audience of Tosca’s fiery temperament.
After Caravadossi assures Tosca of his absolute loyalty and adoration however, the painting then becomes the subject of much amusement for the audience as Tosca sits playfully beside the painting and demands that her husband paint the eyes ‘dark’ instead, to match her own. The way in which very emotive scenes were peppered with tiny comical fragments in the first Act was very effective, as it served to intensify the emotive impact of the more serious scenes.
Costume designer, Fotini Dimou, chose to dress Tosca in a gorgeous turquoise, fur-lined coat and heeled boots, accentuating the character’s perceived flamboyance and desirability. Tosca’s stylish aesthetic however turns out to be her downfall in Act 2 when Scarpia makes unwanted sexual advances on her in exchange for Caravadossi’s life. However, despite Tosca’s glamour in Act 2 (in a sparkly neutral-tone dress and extravagant jewellery) there was a slight costume malfunction when one of Glanville’s large, statement-piece earrings fell out early on in Act 2. The asymmetry of her appearance, therefore, proved to be quite distracting throughout the rest of the scene. However, Glanville took no notice of this, and continued to perform with a captivating grace.
Stage lighting, managed by Lee Curran, was also a fundamental aspect of the performance. Throughout the production the back of the stage was lit by an array of soft, orange bulbs, made to look like candles in a church. The warmth of the orange glow complemented the golden hues in the dome painting hung from the ceiling, which added to the sense of church-like grandeur and helped to convey the religious undertones, which were a key aspect throughout the performance.
“This was an extraordinarily powerful way to end such an emotionally intense performance”
The lighting and set design were definitely a key contributor to the power of the ending. The dome was set on its side to the back of the stage, with a hollow hole in the middle through which characters could climb through. At the end of the performance, Tosca discovers that Caravadossi has been executed (contrary to prior arrangements with Scarpia) and is completely distraught. She climbs up the side of the Magdalene dome and stands in the centre of the hollow circle, through which a piercing white light glows.
In the background, all of the softly burning orange bulbs are turned up and give off a tremendous light and heat. The audience is blinded, only vaguely able to make out the dark silhouette of Tosca stood in mid-air, Caravadossi’s dead and crumpled body sprawled out helplessly on the stage below. The voice of Susannah Glanville accompanies the orchestra to a heart-wrenching crescendo before she leaps into the light and the set is plunged into darkness. This was an extraordinarily powerful way to end such an emotionally intense performance and received huge applause from the audience who were left feeling staggered and amazed.
Featured image courtesy of Theatre Royal & Royal Concert Hall Official Facebook Page.