Sunday, 16 October 2016

'Tosca' by the English National Opera at the Coliseum

I'm not a great fan of opera. I've seen a few in recent years and the only one that's come close to making me 'get it' was 'La Traviata' at the Royal Opera House earlier this year. That involved me emotionally as well as having sumptuous sets and fantastic singing. Since then I've realised that I can potentially like opera, I just need to be careful which ones I choose to see until I have the magic revelation and I fall in love. I haven't seen any operas since 'La Traviata' until Friday evening when I went to see 'Tosca' at the Coliseum, home of the English National Opera (that sings everything in English).

A man enters a church furtively to find the key his sister has hidden that will let him hide in a small chapel before an artist enters to continue to paint a fresco on the wall. The subject is the furtive man's sister as a madonna. The artist's lover visits him and gets jealous over the blond hair and blue eyed subject but the artist reassures her that it is her he loves and her flashing dark eyes. They arrange to meet later that night. The artist is Mario Cavaradossi and the singer is Floria Tosca, our central characters.

When she leaves the furtive man emerges and it turns out he's a former consul of Rome and has just escaped from prison with the help of his sister. The artist is a supporter and swears to help him escape Rome. They hear police at the door of the church and make good their escape and that's when we meet Baron Scarpia, the chief of police (who I renamed Shitface for his evil nature). Baron Shitface wants to arrest and hang both the former consul and Caravadossi as traitors and he sets his agents to follow Tosca to find them.

Find them he does, through cruel torture of Caravadossi while poor Tosca has to listen to his cries. To save her lover she tells Shitface where the consul is hiding but he wants more. He's already told us that he wants Tosca - not to woo her gently as a lover, but to conquer her, to take her as he pleases and use her for his own enjoyment. To save her love she reluctantly agrees and demands a guarantee of free passage out of the city state of Rome. As Shitface starts to ravish her she stabs him in the heart and proclaims that a woman has killed the monster that all of Rome fears.

The scene moves to Castel Sant'Angelo, the prison where Cavaradossi is to be executed, and she assures him that the police will feign shooting him and he must lie still until she says he can move, then they will escape from Rome. But, of course, Shitface was lying and they shoot him anyway. As brave Tosca mourns her beloved the police appear having discovered Shitface's body and move to arrest her. No, they won't have her, and she throws herself off the battlements of the castle to follow her beloved in death.

This is a magnificent opera of love and passion and Tosca emerges victorious in defeating her enemy and depriving his minions of revenge. Puccini's music is marvellous and the story is told so simply and effectively translated into English by Edmund Tracey. Grand, swelling music one moment, quieting the next as the story progresses. It's such a simple story told so effectively and movingly.

My Tosca was Keri Alkema and Cavaradossi was Gwyn Hughes Jones. Shitface was Craig Colclough and he was righteously booed during the bows at the end. Serves you right! They all played their parts to perfection - especially the dangerous and menacing Shitface - believing the acting and rejoicing in the singing. I guessed that Shitface would lie about saving Cavaradossi but I didn't guess the tragic ending of Tosca throwing herself from the battlement. Such a brave and triumphant hero!

Thank you ENO and Keri for opening my eyes to another opera and introducing me to another hero. Thank you to Catherine Malfitano, director of the original production, and to Donna Stirrup, the revival director. Such a well crafted production with simple sets and lighting that helped focus attention on the story and the protagonists. I loved it!

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