A Cunning Blog

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My Tosca

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I was away for most of January so missed the opening of Tosca and all the ensuing fa la la. Once QF31 had delivered me home, and as soon as I could be sure of actually staying awake in a darkened room for three hours, I was on that bus and off to catch Ms Takesha Kizart before she bit her final bullet.

So… impressions? First, the set is curiously beautiful, for all its cluttered shabbiness. It is the kind of crypt that you might find under the chapel in Elijah Moshinsky’s Rigoletto – lots of fascinating detail going on, lots of bits and pieces to play with. In fact, in a strange way it reminded me of the set of Neil Armfield’s Peter Grimes. Nothing glam, just a characterful all purpose space which can be seen through literal or metaphorical goggles depending on need – a brighter, more interesting version of a black box.

Second, my two bobsworth about the direction. I loved bits, I hated bits. The violence was great. Love a good bit of enthusiastic, dangerous looking stage violence, especially when splashed with blood. All the incidental business was great – Spoletta and Sciarrone and the Sacristan fidgeted and perved and ignored delightfully. I particularly loved it as Warwick Fyfe, now metamorphosed into Gaoler, came out at the beginning of Act Four with a replay of the Sacristan’s morning rituals, one terrible day later.

As for the central three, Tosca, Cavaradossi and Scarpia, they were electrifying. John Wegner made my skin creep. However, the chorus breaking into slow mo civil disobedience (then clearing up like admonished naughty schoolkids) and the Lotto Countermelody went straight over my head. I was also troubled by Jud Arthur’s hammy lurching about as the exhausted Angelotti, and his albeit adrenalin fuelled but nevertheless miraculous recovery to climb up and leap through a window ten feet up the wall. It didn’t offend me. It just made me uncomfortable. Which is perhaps what this production was meant to do.

It’s probably time to admit that I have never seen Tosca live on stage before. No, not once. Not even the 30 year old John Copley production. I’ve never been in a theatre to see the great leap off the ramparts, or a heavenly Te Deum. Christopher Alden’s Tosca is My Tosca now, the one against which I will make comparisons.

So, calling all you Tosca veterans out there – Alden fans or no. In other productions, does Tosca seem like a paranoid whiny piece of fluff in the first act? And does Cavaradossi sound like a long suffering “No your bum doesn’t look big in that” kind of guy? And are there any parts of the opera in which anyone – anyone at all — is heroic? It seems My Tosca is one devoid of heros. Cavaradossi, admittedly, puts up with a great deal (and I don’t mean Tosca here). He is the closest one gets to a real hero. Angelotti has any heroism stripped away when he has to dress as a woman. Tosca spends most of the opera struggling to grasp the situation. Scarpia and, in turn, Spoletta are pretenders to the title, going through the motions of power, control, mastery, but never heroism. So who is one to like? What is to be salvaged from this trainwreck of a situation?

The survivor is the music. I think that is what, beyond all else, won me over to this performance. One often lumps Puccini in with Verdi as ‘romantic opera’ — swooning strings, soaring voices etc. But when you don’t play up to the love duet, you don’t do the Te Deum with religious fervour, Puccini’s music comes across like a film score, wiry and spare at one moment, with the big crescendos for the close-ups. I’ve been in the pit for Boheme and seen how intricately the music follows the libretto, but this Tosca was even more of an eye-opener. I want to listen to it all again, with a score, and preferably with John Wegner, Rosario La Spina and Takesha Meshe Kizart singing. Because in case I forget to mention it, they were spectacular. Even Rosario, whose voice I’ve never quite got before, made me sit up, ears wide open, for his beautifully crafted high notes. I hope Opera Australia are proud of this production, and proud of the director who served the music so well and the musicians who performed it.

Turns out My Tosca was a real bloody treat.

Author: harryfiddler

Harriet Cunningham – aka @harryfiddler — is a freelance writer based in Sydney. Harriet wrote her first novel, about a runaway cat, at the age of 7. In the forty year gap between novel 1 and novel 2 she moved from London to Edinburgh to Sydney, ran an opera company, played violin on the opera house stage and sailed from Gove to Darwin. She is now a music critic and writer, best known as the critic who got banned by Opera Australia. She still hangs out at the Sydney Opera House, is still trying to get that novel published, and still plays the violin.

2 thoughts on “My Tosca

  1. What! No comments, yet? Amazing!
    I will not take much issue with what you have said. The singing was great, the set a fine alternative, and the memory of Scarpia eating pizza from the cardboard package will remain for ever a brilliant touch. (What! No candle sticks!!) The choir’s actions were incomprehensible to me, but then I also had difficulty with the Marchese climbing on the confessional roof as a sort of muse with no role.
    On the whole the production failed to ignite excitement for me, in spite of the fine singing (and apart from the less than adequate performance by the cello soloist).
    After reflection I have come to the view that there is a disconnect between the musical style and the harsh modern setting. For the modern setting a score with more edge to the music would seem necessary. Janacek would work fine. Puccini’s rich emotional outpourings match better with a more traditional staging, I feel. Nonetheless, an experience to savour and remember.
    J

    • Yes, the Marchese… bit odd. But I did like the harshness, for a change. It makes once listen to Puccini like a twentieth-century composer, which of course he is, just. He would have made a mozza in Hollywood!

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