Tosca

John Bolton Wood in Tosca

 

Last night with D to “Tosca.”

The production, directed by John Bell with sets by Michael Scott-Mitchell and costumes by Teresa Negroponte, is set in 1943-44 Rome, after the Germans took over.  This is intended to make more immediate to us the political and social situation in a way which might have been analogous to the position of the papal states in the original (when the liberal enemy was Napoleon).  Scarpia is an Italian fascist; he is assisted by Germans – cue a few swastikas.

The first act set is a very handsomely done Sant’Andrea della Valle ( a wider view here). Apparently it is the size of this set and the need for four trips with the stage machinery at 7 minutes each to remove it which leads to the 35-minute first interval.  That’s John Bolton-Wood as the sacristan with the choir-boys here re-imagined as junior fascisti (love the long grey woollen shorts!).

Scarpia’s rooms are fascist-monumental.  When Tosca sings “Vissi d’arte” it is a soliloquy to us rather than to Scarpia, who walks out to a balcony at the rear.

The third act refigures the shepherd boy as one of a number of Jews awaiting (or so I thought: I have since read they are avoiding) transportation.  This begs the question of the cow-bells (which seemed quieter than usual, perhaps for that reason) but that is par for the course when things are up- or re-dated.  The setting is no longer the top of the Castel Sant’Angelo, but instead some kind of prison courtyard.  That’s fair enough on the redating premise but inevitably is less picturesque than the original.  Teasingly, there is still an elevated walkway at the rear.  It is caged in by barbed wire. How is Tosca going to do her jump? I guess that’s the point: she has nowhere to go – she will even be deprived of the leap.  When the moment comes, as if impelled by a race-memory of all Toscas, she runs up the stairs, but is machine-gunned on the barbed wire.

Christian Badea conducted.  Orchestrally things were pretty good save that the big french horn moment at the beginning of act III seemed a bit timid and the divisi celli were disappointingly scrappy.  The violas have a lot of ominous figures which came out well.

Korean tenor Yonghoon Lee was Caravadossi and (I suppose I should add: Greek soprano) Alexia Voulgaridou was Tosca.  They were good on the strong bits but from where I sat less affecting in the moments I expected to be more melting – maybe I was too close for these. Lee certainly has a fine ringing slightly baritonal voice. His Vittoria! was great.  The roles are due to be taken over later in the run by Cheryl Barker and Diego Torres. That is a pretty good and to my mind potentially a better “second cast” expressively though probably not so big-voiced.  Unfortunately an impending trip out of the country precludes my seeing them.

John Wegner as Scarpia was suffering from  “difficulties.”  He acted his way through these like a trouper.  I can’t say (as Peter McCallum did in his review) that this was just a matter of a cold (McCallum: “winter gremlin”).  If it wasn’t, that must be a matter of concern for Wegner and also for the company, given his impending appearance as Alberich at the end of the year.  So I guess we would all prefer that it was.

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