shabby little shocker certainly pulls in the
crowds. And deservedly so, for above and beyond
the perhaps more obvious attractions of torture,
murder and unbridled lust what strikes the
listener is Puccini’s sheer dramatic genius.
The musical realisation of plot is well-nigh
perfect in its pacing, certainly when as carefully
presented as here under the direction of Noel
Davies commendably seemed intent on revealing
the modernist elements of the score right
from the beginning - this was not to be a
comfortable experience, an impression confirmed
by the predominantly black stage of Act 1,
dominated by an oppressive, massive, slanting
cross that looms over all.
Gavin took the part of Mario Cavaradossi.
His is not a big voice, and his ‘Recondita
armonia’ was thin of tone. Perhaps he was
not helped by his vocal surroundings, a focussed
Angelotti and a Sacristan (Graeme Danby) whose
asides were perfectly timed. Gavin’s legato
did not improve for the bigger scenes with
Tosca, breath control in general seeming to
be the problem. Sitting in the stalls, at
least everything he did was audible, but there
was the recurring thought that surely he could
not be projecting up into the Gods? The same
thought returned strongly in the final act
at ‘E lucevan le stelle’ (‘I remember the
evening’), although here he managed to rise
well to the climax.
was Claire Rutter (who from a distance bears
a disconcerting likeness to Cecilia Bartoli).
She appeared not to be on top form, her vibrato
warbly, her Act 2 cry of ‘Assassino!’ (rendered,
unsurprisingly, as ‘Assassin!’) carrying little
force, and her final gesture of the opera
was more a half-scream than anything else.
She fell well, though, and her ‘Visi d’arte’
(‘Life was music’) tended towards the touching.
Her best moment came as she asked Scarpia,
‘How much? Your price…’. At this point she
approached some sort of the Mediterranean
underlying strength of defiance that Tosca
so clearly should possess.
it was the Scarpia who stole the show and
convinced one that, despite all the evidence
(arias) to the contrary, this devil gets all
the good tunes. Right from ‘Tosca è
un buon falco!’ (‘Tosca’s my falcon’) it was
clear we were in the presence of a big, forceful,
confident and above all intrinsically malevolent
personality. It was Bleiker’s presence, accentuated
by Ian Jackson-French’s atmospheric lighting,
that made Act II the sexual thriller it needs
to be – a pity Tosca’s murder of Scarpia was
garbled (words and whole phrases disappeared)
and, of course, the English word ‘Die’ does
not carry the expressive force of the Italian
spurious kiss she plants on Scarpia’s corpse
that caused so much critical comment when
the production was first unveiled was there.
This nod towards the shadowy world of necrophilia
seemed strangely convincing to this reviewer
in context – love and hate are not that far
removed after all (some would say they are
opposite sides of the same coin), and in a
scene where emotions are as foregrounded as
here, the gesture made horrifying, shocking
orchestra seemed fully responsive and involved
throughout. Horns at the beginning of Act
3 were a distinct improvement on the Rhinegold
I heard recently (although some exposed ‘cello
lines left room for doubts to creep in).
from the soloists was generally acceptable,
but there were some decidedly shaky moments.
‘Get me my palette’ came across rather unfortunately
as ‘Get me my parrot’, for example. The translation
holds out well, though, despite the fact that
there is an evident and unavoidable loss of
expression (even a simple line like ‘Ecco
la chiave’ loses its expressive contour when
we hear the smoother, ‘Here is the key’).
a lot to take the force out of Tosca,
and whatever the various failings of this
evening, the shocker emerged intact.
Claire Rutter (Tosca)
& Julian Gavin (Cavaradossi)
Claire Rutter (Tosca)