Tosca, Market Drayton Festival Centre - review with pictures
I’m over-egging it if I describe opera streamed live to a cinema as a new art form but watching the Royal Opera House’s production of Puccini’s Tosca ‘live’ on the Festival Centre’s big screen, the thought struck me boldly.
The camera director has a key role in deciding when to let us see the big picture and when to move in close for the detail. He or she can give us the excitable choirboys massed in the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle in their scarlet and white robes celebrating victory over Napoleon; can capture the terrible beauty on the battlements of the Castel Sant’Angelo before dawn breaks on a day of disillusionment and death.
But Tosca is a tightly compacted drama, both in time and space, involving just three main characters: operatic diva Floria Tosca, her lover the republican painter Cavaradossi, and papist chief of police Baron Scarpia. The camera’s ability to move in close gives us detailed facial expressions with voyeuristic intensity.
As their fates entwine in Scarpia’s study during the second act, he says of the other two “I want one on the gallows, the other in my arms.” As he schemes we can see every twitch of his eyebrows, each salacious tweak of his tongue. As her lover is tortured feet away, we can see into Tosca’s eyes. When Scarpia sings “For myself the violent conquest has stronger relish than the soft surrender,” we shiver at malice we have witnessed up close and personal.
Puccini’s rich and dramatic orchestration also feels remarkably cinematic. Although not as intricately developed as Wagner’s leitmotifs in his Ring operas, Puccini does use stirring motifs for his main characters – most powerfully the three strident chords which open the opera and repeatedly represent Scarpia’s malevolence and abuse of power.
Not that Tosca is short of famous arias. Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja opened with a gorgeous Recondita armonia (Hidden harmony). Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka gave us a sweepingly emotional Vissi d’arte (I lived for art, I lived for love) in Act 2. Their duets in Act 3 were intensely passionate. With baritone Gerald Finley, also from Canada, I couldn’t separate the singing from the acting – both were sneeringly, wickedly, brilliant.
Before, during intervals, and after the performance we had commentary and interviews, as is customary at screened events. I could have done without the parting pun “Literally, an opera to die for.” But I appreciated footage of Puccini himself playing the piano and a still of Maria Callas looking ever-so glamorous as Tosca.
We heard also that we were one of 1040 cinemas in 28 countries enjoying the performance. A cinematic event indeed. The cast didn’t benefit from our repeated applause, but I’m all in favour of us sharing our appreciation with each other in our own cinema.
Next up from Covent Garden is The Winter’s Tale from the Royal Ballet on 28 February, with an exciting new production of Carmen on 6 March.
By John Hargreaves