A ground-breaking production with legendary singing and staging.
‘Opera North triumphs again’ is fast becoming the go-to headline in terms of summing up what’s on offer at Leeds Grand Theatre and subsequently the cities to which the company tours. This revival of Edward Dick’s 2018 production of Tosca is a rarity in that it sharpens rather than dilutes the original, and even more so in that, unsurprisingly given the director’s background in theatre, it is powerfully dramatic and gripping without resorting to anachronism or sensationalism.
Just before curtain up, we were told that the Cavaradossi, Mykhailo Malafii, had been suffering from a viral infection and he asked for our understanding. In the event, a few wayward notes aside, his was a stunning performance. There are far too many ‘can belto’ tenors essaying this role, especially when they don’t remotely resemble a romantic lover, but Malafii is the possessor of a beautiful, even refined dramatic voice, and a rare respect for such markings as ‘dolcissimo’ which are so often ignored. He has the heft for the moments of grand passion, but excels in those of tenderness, displaying a melting legato and nuanced phrasing. Now how often do you get to say that about a Puccini tenor?
Giselle Allen reprised her highly individual Tosca; completely credible as the jealous diva in the first act, she was equally impressive in her furious condemnation of Scarpia and her possessive love for Cavaradossi. She performs ‘Vissi d’Arte’ not as a lament for her pliant character but as an angry response to how she has been treated, and it’s all the more powerful thereby. She is one of those rare singers who are perfectly able to turn in a sweetly melodic legato line, but who can equally blaze over the orchestra with searing passion or sacrifice a beautiful sound for dramatic effect.
“…it is powerfully dramatic and gripping…”
Robert Hayward’s Scarpia has acquired almost legendary status, and rightly so. His interpretation is the opposite of that other great exponent of the role, Bryn Terfel – where the latter is brutal and shambling, Hayward is steely and unbending. His ramrod posture in Act I never really alters despite the ravaging nature of his lust for Tosca, and his indifference to suffering is played with brilliant insouciance. His singing is forceful as well as Italianate.
As always with this company, the smaller parts are impressively cast – Callum Thorpe’s heart-rending Angelotti, Matthew Stiff’s bluff yet appealing Sacristan, and Alex Banfield’s creepy Spoletta were outstanding. The Chorus of Opera North distinguished themselves in the Te Deum, and the assorted urchins were convincing.
Adam Hickox took over the conducting from Garry Walker, and definitely proved up to the job; the orchestra was on fine form, from the overwhelming first few bars to the closing phrases. Special mention must go to the lovely playing during ‘E lucevan le stelle’.
The set design by Tom Scutt is brilliantly conceived, the central ‘dome’ an inspired idea which gives the production its central image, and as usual with this director, the personenregie is considered in detail; you never see anyone flailing about or looking as if they need some encouragement – sadly a not exactly rare event. Tosca’s final defiant exit is one of the most shocking we’ve seen.
• This was the final performance in Leeds, but you can catch it on Tour if you’re near The Lowry, Salford on 11 March, Nottingham Theatre Royal on 16 March, Newcastle Theatre Royal on 23 March, or Hull New Theatre on 30 March.
• Details can be found here.