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Seen and Heard International Review

 

G Puccini, Tosca at the Finnish National Opera, April 15 2005 (GF)


Conductor: Kari Tikka
Director: Siegwulf Turek (revision by Anna Kelo)
Sets, costumes, lighting: Siegwulf Turek

Cast:
Tosca – Cynthia Makris (shared role with Päivi Nisula)
Cavaradossi – Raimo Sirkiä
Scarpia – Juha Uusitalo (shared role with Raimo Laukka)
Angelotti – Veli-Pekka Väisänen
Sacristan – Kalevi Olli
Spoletta – Pertti Mäkelä
Sciarrone – Jaakko Hietikko
Gaoler – Andrus Mitt
A Shepherd Boy – Oskari Pennanen

 


Päivi Nisula as Tosca


This production of Puccini’s thriller originally opened in June 1995 and has been revived a number of times, the latest revival opening on April 11 running until the end of the month. It is very much a traditional Tosca with realistic sets, and how else could this opera be presented? The libretto specifies the exact times and locations and it is closely based on historical fact. So, while visitors to the actual locations in Rome may not recognize every detail it is still obvious that the first act plays in the Sant’Andrea al Quirinale church where an enormous construction is erected for Mario Cavaradossi to be able to paint the altar-piece; that Scarpia’s room in Palazzo Farnese in the second act is indeed very beautiful with chandeliers, candles and period furniture (but I miss the fireplace) – a frightening contrast to the horrible action that takes place; and the third act plays on the slightly stylized roof terrace of Castel di Sant’Angelo with the dome of St Peter’s church in the background.


Red is often the colour of life but in this opera – and in this production – it is the colour of death. When Tosca runs out of Scarpia’s room, having stabbed him to death, she leaves the door half-open and lets a streak of red shine through the opening and cross the dark stage. When dawn rises in Act III the sky is as red as in Edward Munch’s famous Skriet. It gradually fades away but returns at the end of the opera when Cavaradossi is being shot – very realistically it has to be said: standing with his back towards the audience the bullets hit his chest and penetrate his body and the back of his white shirt is coloured red, at once showing Tosca that the fake execution was no fake execution.


Kari Tikka’s conducting was built very much on extremes: in the dramatic moments, of which there are a lot, he whipped up the tension to such a degree that the orchestra threatened to drown the singers; in the lyrical moments he was almost dangerously slow. But Tosca is indeed an opera built on contrasts and there was not a dull moment during the performance.


In many ways Tosca “plays itself” – there is no need for over-direction. In this case I thought that the role of Angelotti was rather over-played, he felt almost parodical. Pertti Mäkelä’s Spoletta was oily and threatening enough, but here I must question his costume: an over-sized tailcoat with enormous pink lapels. That’s more a dress for a clown than a dangerous and terrifying police agent.


The singing was on a high level. Raimo Sirkiä has been a pillar of strength for many years at the National Opera in dramatic tenor roles and I have often admired him for his intensity and care over phrasing. This time he wasn’t very comfortable in the opening ‘Recondita armonia’, which was shaky and strained, partly due to Tikka’s slow tempo. But he recovered and during the rest of the first act his singing was glorious. In the second act, what little he had to sing, he never really found the kernel of his voice but his third act was up to standards again. His phrasing and identification in ‘E lucevan le stelle’ was excellent, though it has to be noted that the freshness of voice to be heard on his Ondine recital made almost 15 years ago, was no longer there.


His real life partner, American soprano Cynthia Makris, was a visually and vocally magnificent Floria Tosca: vibrant, powerful, glistering top notes, cutting through the orchestra at the climaxes and at the same time capable of an almost girlish timbre for the more intimate moments. She delivered a ‘Vissi d’arte’ so scaled down, so free from theatricality, so unbearably resigned – again at a very slow speed. I have never heard her as good as this.


Magnificent is also the only adjective I can find for Juha Uusitalo’s Scarpia. This bass baritone can obviously do anything. Just a few days before Christmas he sang and acted the buffo part of Don Magnifico in Rossini’s La Cenerentola to perfection. Here he created a Scarpia of flesh and blood – no cardboard villain. He has a tremendous power but also a lightness of touch that is just as impressive. He quite often fined down his voice to a tenor sound that made him even more frightening than the more traditional brute. Here he ranged from seductive whisperings to horrifying roars. A tremendous portrait of this chief of police.


The smaller parts were generally well taken with a black-voiced but comically rather restrained Sacristan from Kalevi Olli. The Shepherd Boy’s little solo in the third act should also be mentioned, executed with a clear voice by Oskari Pennanen from Cantores Minores.


To sum up: this is another production from the Finnish National Opera that can be wholeheartedly recommended.



Göran Forsling

 


For an earlier review of Juha Uusitalo as Scarpia click HERE

Picture © Finnish National Opera



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