Grange Park has brought together a powerful cast for this revival of Peter Relton’s 2017 direction of Tosca, with similarly stentorian conducting of the BBC Concert Orchestra by Mark Shanahan.
While I am unfamiliar with the 2017 original show that is now revived by Stephen Medcalf, it remains the performance of the cast and the conducting that is of most interest. The staging is a ruined Sant’Andrea della Valle church for the first act, Scarpia’s Palazzo Farnese office has a damaged chandelier and windows protected with tape in act two while the dark final act is a brutal modernist concrete walled execution area. Add a Nazi officer who wanders in and out with some Nazi soldiers (the executioners) and 1940s dress and you get this is Roma after the Allied invasion of the Italian peninsula. Thus the famous Victoria cry is in celebration of the invasion at Anzio rather than a Napoleonic battle and Cavaradossi and Angelotti are sort of partisan resistance fighters I suppose.
Izabela Matula and Otar Jorjikia
Okay, so nothing very new in the idea of fascism rather than ancient regime but other touches are a little more jarring. For example, the corrupt church is given some grace with the inclusion of a nun helping a down and out sleeping in the bomb damaged church and she then, for some reason, sings the shepherd boy song opening act three and then blesses the chains where Cavaradossi is about to be shot. Tosca does stab Scarpia but with the fork rather than knife that a large piece of beef has been carved with, and then seemingly chokes him to death – her death then is not leaping from the battlements but impaling herself on a soldier’s bayonet. Hmm.
Returning to that beef. The chef who comes in and for some reason flambés it with a blow torch turns out (I am pretty sure) to be the torturer who is about to inflict the same treatment on Cavaradossi. However, when Tosca squirms in horror as Scarpia savagely slices the bloody meat I half wondered if she was a vegan and was appalled that meat is murder, rather than the rather lame torture noises.
Anyway, the singing was strong if at times lacking subtlety. Again, it may have been down to direction. When Polish soprano Izabela Matula first appears she is a haughty and rather dismissive woman whose piousness and gentleness seemed in very small measure. In fact, she was far scarier than the rather nice Scarpia who reminded me of a 1950s matinee idol Italian silver fox, a sort of Marcello Mastroianna to a fiery Sophia Loren in one of their many films together. The singing grew with the intensity of the angst and passion and while “Vissi d’arte” may not have been a convincing cri de coeur her disgust at his touch was palpable and when she killed the police chief there was genuine hatred in her voice. The gentleness returned for her final duet with Cavaradossi and in this small theatre the performance was gripping but more contrast would have been good.
After some scary notes in his opening aria, Georgian Otar Jorjikia settled in as another full voiced performer. However, while his Cavaradossi was intense his acting was at times humorous and charming. His “E lucevan le stelle” was heartfelt.
He may have acted and looked like a smooth Italian restaurant proprietor Brett Polegato sang superbly. Quite why he had to grasp his arm (heart attack?) I have no idea but he made for a seductively vile Scarpia rather than the usual brute.
There was no attempt at the usual play for laughs Sacristan from Andrew Slater and Alan Ewing sang a solid Angelotti. I could have done without him munching on his picnic while watching the lovers as an unnecessary distraction (the same with that helpful nun). The High Altar presumably being somewhere in the distance the audience was okay although I am not sure why the congregation then shifted their gaze to stare in another direction. Were they looking to Scarpia?
There are further performances on June 15, 21, 24, 28, July 2, 5
Images by Marc Brenner