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A production that truly sizzles

The Grand Theatre
09/16/2018 -  & September 22, 28, October 3, 5, 11, 13 (Leeds), 23, 25, 27 (Newcastle), November 1, 3 (Hull), 7, 9 (Nottingham), 14, 16 (Salford Quays), 2018
Giacomo Puccini: Tosca
Giselle Allen*/Susannah Glanville (Tosca), Rafael Rojas (Cavaradossi), Robert Hayward (Scarpia), John Savournin (Cesare Angelotti), Matthew Stiff (A Sacristan), Rupert Charlesworth (Spoletta), Richard Mosley-Evans (Sciarrone), Ross McInroy (A jailer), Ben Hayes*/Matilda Hazell (A shepherd boy)
Chorus of Opera North, Oliver Rundell (chorus master), Orchestra of Opera North, Antony Hermus*/Jonathan Santagada (conductor)
Edward Dick (director), Tom Scutt (set designer), Fotini Dimou (costume designer), Lee Curran (lighting designer), Maxine Braham (choreographer)

G. Allen & R. Rojas (© Richard H. Smith)

All performances of Tosca should open like this one: the audience sat chatting in the lighted auditorium and then, all in one second, the lights went off, the orchestra thundered the doom-laden opening chord, and the curtain went up to reveal a man descending on a rope from an oculus in the domed ceiling. Director Edward Dickís new production is full of moments that captured the maximum drama in what is already a notably tight and tense work. Conductor Antony Hermus likewise propelled the music, with exclamation points that daringly border on the strident.

Tosca has acquired a (well-earned) opulent and glamorous image. If these aspects were given short shrift, the intensity of the gritty drama made up for it. The action is set in todayís world; the first actís picnic basket is a takeaway brown paper bag, and Tosca is made to watch Cavaradossiís torture on a laptop. We are in a pace where a brutal regime has received religious sanction, as seen during the Te Deum when the bishop and the garishly-dressed glitterati direct their praise toward Scarpia.

Giselle Allanís Tosca instantly establishes herself as a declarative modern woman. Her initial jealous demands are downright shrewish at first, but she shows a degree of irony at her own behaviour as it combines both overt sexuality and religiosity.

Rafael Rojasí voice has a smokey quality, with ringing top notes. Overall he portrays an ardent, mercurial Cavaradossi. Robert Hayward is every bit the cynical sadist with a fine-honed voice that nails each utterance. Act II does not take place in his office but his bedroom; Spoletta and Sciarrone are not only his lackeys but also his procurors. The moment when he lets Cavaradossi know that Tosca has caved in and sealed the doom of Angelotti stands out in a way Iíve never seen before. The staging, with its claustrophobic atmosphere (here again the production counters the grandiosity that frequently characterizes the work), has numerous telling moments.

Itís great to see a production of an often-seen opera that manages to render so many fresh jolts while still being true to the spirit and letter of the work. It should do good service for Opera North for many seasons to come.

Michael Johnson



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