New Zealand Opera’s current production of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca is a crowd-pleasing diva of a show, it’s a winner on all counts.
Originally intended to be set in Rome 1800, this production chooses to present Tosca in the 1950’s bringing in perfectly tailored costumes and slick scenery. Tosca has a story line juicier than most soaps and moves at an excellent pace focusing on three main characters.
The action starts in The Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle in Rome where escaped prisoner Cesare Angelotti finds refuge hidden in the Attavanti family chapel.
The Sacristan is reciting the Angelus when Mario Cavaradossi interrupts him to continue his painting of Mary Magdalene. His expression of this image is inspired by a mysterious woman he had seen praying as well as his mistress the soprano Floria Tosca. Once alone Cesare emerges and Mario promised to help him get to safety. Tosca then arrives and is immediately suspicious as she has already overheard voices and assumes it was another woman. Her jealousy goes full force and when she sees the painting with beautiful blue eyes her suspicion grows further. However, the lovers make up and agree to meet later that night.
When the authorities are aware of the escapee chief of police Baron Scarpia and his men storm the church and hatch a plan to use Tosca’s jealousy and love to track down Mario and hopefully lead them to their prisoner. Scarpia also has eyes for Tosca and intends to have his wicked way with her by any means. When Mario is captured and tortured Scarpia takes his chance to manipulate Tosca but boy did he choose the wrong broad to mess with? Will the lovers be reunited and escape to safety?
The chorus cast is as usual wonderful and presents a beautiful sound in the Te Deum celebrating a political victory.
The villainous Baron Scarpia, played by Phillip Rhodes, embodies the manipulation and strength of this evil man who looks so suave he could’ve stepped out of Goodfellas or The Godfather. He’s a wonderful performer whose voice adds the right level of perilous gravitas the story needs.
Simon O’Neill as Mario Cavaradossi wowed us from the moment he came on stage. Charismatic and energetic, this powerful tenor will demand your attention and have you hanging on every note. His Recondita Armonia just flows over you lifting up to a fantastic sound around the theatre. An excellent performance that’ll keep you glued to your seat.
Obviously the night belonged to Floria Tosca herself, played by Orla Boylan. This beautiful performance begins playfully and emerges into a moving achievement full of grace and passion. What a gift of a character she has to play with, and she doesn’t hold back anything in getting us on board with her love and despair; try getting through her Vissi d’arte without the hairs on the back of your neck standing on end. An intimidatingly captivating portrayal of an old school diva.
Perfectly simplistic yet stylish sets are the final cherry on top of this delicious production. We guarantee you’ll fall head over heels with Tosca this Spring.
Tosca is on at Auckland’s ASB Theatre until 27 September and Wellington’s St James Theatre 10 – 17 October.
Reviewed by Ingrid Grenar.