It takes one to know one, the saying goes, and maybe it takes a singer – in this case, director Malfitano – to know exactly what should go where and when in Puccini's perfectly crafted drama. After all, as a soprano she won an Emmy in 1992 singing the title role, opposite Plácido Domingo and Ruggero Raimondi and broadcast from the original Roman locations: she is, in short, at home with Tosca, and she knows her way around.
In three short acts here is love, jealousy, heroism and deception portrayed on both a grand and on an intimate scale, and the team Malfitano assembled, and this revival's superlative cast, between them create a complete work of art that is as a treat for the eye as well as the ear.
The majestic church of Sant'Andrea della Valle in Act I is decked in old-master gold and copper, in Frank Philipp Schlössman's alternately sumptuous and stark design. But the architecture is also sketchy, as though its solidity, like the apparent place of safety that is the church, is an illusion. And when the manipulative chief of police, Scarpia, orders the torture of a rebel painter and attempts to seduce the man's possessive lover, a glamorous singer, the Floria Tosca of the title, against the political upheaval on the cusp of the 19th century, he swaggers in purple in his grandiose room in the Palazzo Farnese.
Like the Tower of London, Castel Sant'Angelo stands on the river in the capital and is today a popular tourist spot. But like the Tower, it was once a place of terror. On the battlements an execution is staged in Act III, and a surprising 180-degree swing through the architecture has us peering up to the heavens through the inhospitable circular walls of this dread fortress.
David Martin Jacques's lighting lends chiarascuro depth, Kevin Sleep the revival lighting designer, and Gideon Davey's costumes, from the vanity of Scarpia's brocade waistcost to the flamboyance of Tosca's concert dress and the chilling masks of the executioners are invested with meaning.
Tosca calls for three outstanding voices, and here is a cast to treasure: Keri Alkema making her role debut as Floria Tosca is already booked to sing Tosca in Frankfurt and Toronto, and that will be just the beginning. With her passion and her stupendous capacity to sing to the rafters and also with great delicacy she goes straight into a special league of singers to watch.
Her lover Cavaradossi is sung by Gwyn Hughes Jones with a real feeling and a flair for that unashamedly full-blooded Italian tenor sound. But in many ways the evening goes to the American bass-baritone Craig Colclough as Scarpia, a performance chilling for its ability to flick in an instant from sybaritic sentimentality to sadism. His glittering mad eyes and unstable, reptilian presence coupled with a voice that could freeze the Tiber are reason enough to catch this show.
Oleg Caetani conducting the English National Opera and Chorus encourages marvellously evocative moments, among them the solemn religious ceremony at the end of Act I, and the doomy foreboding of Act III.
Sung in English, with English surtitles, this is an outstanding production. You could wait a very long time indeed to find a Tosca as good as this.
|What||Tosca review, English National Opera|
|Where||English National Opera, London Coliseum, St Martin's Lane, London, WC2N 4ES | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Embankment (underground)|
03 Oct 16 – 26 Nov 16, 7:30 PM – 10:15 PM