Soho Theatre, London
Summary: Unsatisfying interpretation of Puccini’s classic opera
Leading the charge in updating and reinterpreting opera, OperaUpClose now turns its attention to Tosca. Puccini’s 3-act, through-composed melodrama has everything you could want in an opera; love, jealousy, death, betrayal, murder, fear, corruption, suicide and a mood-perfect, emotionally charged score.
Originally set in Rome in 1800, as Napoleon charged on Rome and unseated the Kingdom of Naples in governing the Papal States, this production moves the action to 1989 East Berlin and the dying days of communism.
In the main, this transition works very well; the parallel between the Napoleonic assent to Rome and the fall of communism is more than fitting. The power struggle between two very differing political ideologies and the brutal, Machiavellian stranglehold of the respective declining governments overlaps far too brilliantly for comfort (giving an eerie sense that history will teach us nothing).
Slightly less convincing is the replacement of the Catholic Church and, in particular, the Virgin Mary with ‘The Party’ and Stalin. The symbolism in what certain characters do and unwavering passion in their actions doesn’t seem to ring true in the updated timeframe. This is compounded by the simplistic orchestration; the full orchestra of the traditional production is simply replaced by a piano, cello and clarinet.
From its first production, Tosca has divided critics. However, almost universally acknowledged is the sheer power of Puccini’s score. This provides not only the backbone of the opera but its heartbeat; synchronising the audience with the intense drama of the story. With the paired down accompaniment this power is lost and with it the audiences’ engagement is subdued. Moreover, some of the more intense scenes, such as the torture of Cavaradossi, have been so muted as to strip them of any comparable impact to the original piece.
The performances in the main are decent. Gareth Dafydd Morris is standout as Cavaradossi and Demelza Stafford puts in an emotionally charged performance as Tosca. Francis Church as Scarpia, however, fails to bring the fear and terror you would hope from this character.
Ultimately, this is not Puccini’s Tosca, it’s clearly OperaUpClose’s Tosca, and while that’s no bad thing, it just doesn’t satisfy.