The composer Puccini has left a rich legacy of stirring tunes in memorable opera productions. The English Touring Opera company have brought a fine and distinctive production of the Puccini classic Tosca to Norwich Theatre Royal this week, with the final production tonight (tomorrow they tackle Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience on the same stage).
Tosca dates back to 1900, but setting is a turbulent Rome around 1800. The Napoleonic Army had retreated, leaving a regime enforced by corrupt and brutal policeman Baron Scarpia. Determined to rout any remaining Napoleon supporters he pursues escaped former consul Cesare Angelotti, who seeks the help of his friend the painter Cavaradossi. The painter is in love with popular singer Floria Tosca, a wild, powerful and passionate character determined to lead life on her own terms.
Scarpia harbours a powerful lust for Tosca himself, so makes the most of an opportunity to compromise her while tracking down Cavaradossi to find the hidden Angelotti.
The drama starts as Cavaradossi paints a portrait of the Madonna in the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle. The portrait bears a strong likeness to a distinctive woman seen praying in the church, who turns out to be Angelotti’s lover who is helping him to escape Scarpia. However Tosca, seeing the painting, flies into a jealous rage against Cavaradossi and doubts his love, although they still manage to arrange to meet after her show that night for a spot of moonlight canoodling.
As opera goes this one is relatively light on principal singers, with just three dominating the story. The evil Scarpia (Craig Smith) initially appears distinguished and statesmanlike, but soon his unpleasant and manipulative character comes through as he tricks and tortures to achieve his aims. Mario Cavaradossi is played with great emotional intelligence by Samuel Sakkar, while the key role of Tosca tonight was brought beautifully to passionate life by Paula Sides. Puccini and his lyricists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa demand perfect timing and powerful performances from the three leads, and these three did not disappoint, building an immediate audience empathy with the two young lovers and a cold disdain for the Police Chief, sentiments perhaps rather unfairly expressed in the nature of the final applause for each star!
Two things add an extra touch to this production. The first is the stunning if rather vertiginous set designed by Florence De Maré. All steps and slopes the set is simple yet gives carefully designed spaces to add dramatic highlight and tension with a minimum of props. The second delight is the performance of a well rehearsed and enthusiastic group of future stars drawn locally from Arden Grove Infants School and Fireside Junior School. These 6-8 year old youngsters were confident and engaging as they tackled the challenging set while singing in Latin and Italian. This kind of outreach work is important if great opera is to be introduced to new generations
Many theatregoers who enjoy a wide range of musicals and conventional theatre seem to hesitate before tackling opera. This production of Tosca presents a simple and powerful tale of love, deception and steadfastness in the face of tyranny all embraced in Puccini’s wonderful music. We all yearn to see the lovers achieve a happy conclusion against all odds – but will they? There are some other hallmark characteristics of opera. On that list, body count tends to feature rather more often than happy endings. But will Tosca reunite with her lover Mario? Will they sail their happy ship into the sunset? You will just have to go to the Theatre Royal and see for yourself – you won’t regret it. You may even get hooked on opera.
Tosca, Thursday 1-Friday 2 June at 7.30pm. Patience, Saturday 3 June at 7.30pm. Tickets £8-£37.50. Discounts for Friends, Corporate Club, and Groups. Buy a full-price ticket for Tosca (Bands A and B) and get £10 off the same priced ticket for Patience. Pre-performance talks happen in the Targetfollow Room at 6.30pm. Please order your free tickets direct from the Box Office when booking.
To book, log onto www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk or call the box office on 01603 630000.