Puccini’s opera takes you on an encapsulating roller coaster of terror and joy.
The Scottish Opera presents a revival of Anthony Besch’s 1980 staging, the setting adapted from 1800 Italy to Fascist control in the 1940s — a change, which may have been radical at the time it was first staged, today seems almost natural. It works perfectly and nothing about it seems out of place, the bloodthirsty nature of fascism and corruption adding to the threat posed by the adversary Baron Scarpia.
Tosca is, above all, a story of love, but also one of political intrigue and faith. The painter Mario Cavaradossi and the beautiful but jealous Floria Tosca are together in bliss. When Mario helps a friend and escaped political prisoner to hide, the evil Baron Scarpia uses Tosca’s jealousy to make her betray her lover. His plan fails, but the couple is arrested, and Tosca is faced with the impossible choice between saving her lover and saving herself.
Puccini’s opera is a tragic one, a rollercoaster of emotions that reaches its climax in the second act, wonderfully supported by the musical renditions which enrapture the audience, pulling them onto the stage and into the performance.
The set is decorated opulently and yet so realistically by Peter Rice – the colours are subdued and set the tone perfectly, transporting the audience to the iconic era of beautiful art amongst grotesque acts.
The cast is brilliant, above all Sinéad Campbell-Wallace as Tosca and Gwyn-Hughes Jones as Mario. Precisely when they sing, where both are vocally secure and emotive, and easily fill the space; the two of them have real, tangible, chemistry on stage. In particular, Campbell-Wallace truly stands out – Tosca’s jealousy plays a part in the plot of the opera, but it’s the charming vice of an enchanting woman. Tosca has character and agency, she’s not a defenceless damsel in distress and it’s wonderful to watch. She’s a diva playing a diva, and when she goes from highest joy to deepest sorrow, as a spectator you cannot help but feel with her.
The evil Baron Scarpia, played by Roland Wood, portrayed as attractive in some adaptations, here is nothing short of repulsive — lustful, corrupt and threatening. Wood is not as vocally strong as Sinéad or Jones so his voice cannot always find domination over the orchestra. Nevertheless, he makes up for it with his stage presence and oftentimes, upon entry to a scene, the tension is palpable. The portrayal risks going into the excessive occasionally, but then again, what is opera without some excess and melodrama?
The supporting characters can easily keep up with the main cast’s gravitas, and the orchestra conducted by Stuart Stratford gave a vivid performance of Puccini’s score. The final seal of approval from the audience was the unanimous standing ovation.