Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin
Visually, there’s a lot to bowl you over and send you home thinking in this Irish National Opera production of Puccini’s Tosca. Perhaps others find also, as I do, that melodic fragments and orchestral moments replay in the mind as we leave the theatre—it’s always a good sign when spectacle and interpretation combine with the music and singing rather than supplanting them.
Credit here belongs to the conductor Nil Venditti, the Irish National Opera Orchestra and the trio of singers depicting the triangle of characters at the heart of the story and of the music. With Venditti there is often a crackling charge to Puccini’s high drama, stirring even if not always subtle, and warmth in his tenderness.
The most complete package in the cast is the bass-baritone Tómas Tómasson as the villainous police chief Scarpia. Vocally and physically he embodies the intimidating archetype of power in the wrong hands.
In her strong portrayal of the title role, the soprano Sinéad Campbell Wallace seems somewhat undermined: Michael Gieleta, the production’s director, either favours or allows a highly histrionic Tosca, as though the character sees no distinction between her private life and her public career as a famous singer, which comes in sharp contrast to Tómasson’s understated yet fully compelling stage presence.
This is a feature only of acts two and three, creating a very striking fall-off from the entirely persuasive Tosca that Campbell Wallace establishes in act one, reminiscent of her Fidelio for INO last year. It never impedes her vocally, least of all in Tosca’s most famous aria, Vissi d’arte, in which voice, emotion and humanity all come together with great power.
There is a certain neutrality in the Cavaradossi of the tenor Dimitri Pittas, who never quite attains the status of leading man and hero. His voice possesses the strength and other qualities for the role, although of these he foregrounds his vibrato too much for my liking. There are also some signs of fatigue, but he saves his best for a strong performance of Cavaradossi’s biggest moment, E lucevan le stelle, in act three.
And so back to those visuals. Gieleta time-warps the Rome of 1800 to a reimagined Rome of the mid-20th century in which a union of power between fascism and the Roman Catholic church is provocatively evoked — witness Scarpia in a clerical collar amid the designer Gary McCann’s arresting combinations of ecclesiastical and imperial iconography, the latter in huge Roman statuary set against brutalist backdrops.
Continues at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre on Wednesday and Thursday, July 13th and 14th, and Saturday and Sunday, July 16th and 17th