What a joy it is to see Ellen Kent returning to Edinburgh with her annual touring festival of opera, two of which the Mumble was happy to catch. For me, it was last Friday’s Tosca, a three-act marvel by Puccini. With a brimful of torture, murder & rape, all served up by Puccini’s fluffy musicality, & garnished with his wonderful sense of humour, Tosca is a delight. Following on from his masterpiece, La Boheme, its origins come during that opera’s composition, when he took a night off to visit the theatre in Florence with his wife, Elvira. The play he saw was La Tosca by the French playwright, Victorien Sardou, & the rest, they say, is operatic history.
Premiered in Rome in 1900, Tosca tells the story of an actress in the same city, who is experiencing the rather brutal twists of fate while elsewhere in Italy, at the Battle of Marengo, Napoleon is winning a great victory. Of Puccini’s treatment of Sardou’s tale, Duncan Hadfield writes that Tosca ‘might be called a late Romantic opera,: in fact, Naturalism & Romanticism merge in both dramatic plotting; &, of course, in the music. In the later stages of composition Puccini went to considerable touch to establish very exact senses of local colour. In 1897 he made a trip to Rome to listen to the sound of the church bells from the heights of Castello Sant’Angelo, & he also enlisted the assistance of a priest to check certain musicoecclisiastical details. Equally, in 1899, Puccini paid a visit to Sardo himself who had encouraged the composer all along the way; & was apparently gracious enough to say the libretto was an improvement on his own play.’
Tosca begins playfully, introducing our heroine & her lover, the painter Cavaradossi, while he works on a painting. In perfectly Puccinian scenes, the paintings image of Magdelane reminds her too much of a local beauty, & she insists the woman’s eye are repainted – jealous eyes indeed, & absolutely hilarious. From here things get juicier, with the Chief of Police, Baron Scarpia, scheming his way into the heart – & panties – of the Roman diva. Love, desire, beauty, death, civil persecution – it seems Italy has & will never change! The finale, by the way, is breathtaking, a volcanic explosion to the tension-builds that had been gathering throughout the previous three acts.
Tosca is a lovely libretto, with soul-touching lines such as; ‘God will forgive me, he will see that I am weeping,’ & ‘Tosca, you make me forget God.’ With Tosca, Romantic-era Italy has been recreated with a professional ease by the company, a great effort for a stage that must be thrust up & dragged down again in a day before the next opera (in this Carmen on Saturday). Performance wise, Tosca is a dream, full of Eastern European talent, of whom the leading soprano, Ukranian Alyona Kistenyova, had the most perfect vocality – I could almost feel the sonic vibrations touch my tingling skin as she sang. I also loved the baddie, Vladimir Dragos, of Chisinau, whose dominant evil streaks shone like ochre-dripping from the stage. All singers were top notch & delightful to watch, while the orchestra matched Puccini’s vision note for note. A lovely treat for such talent to reach these most northerly climes.
Reviewer : Damo Bullen
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