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BWW Review: TOSCA at Adelaide Festival Theatre

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Saturday 12th November 2016

State Opera of South Australia have a double reason to celebrate. Not only did the opening night of their production of Giacomo Puccini Tosca prove a great success, but the earlier production this year, Cloudstreet, has been short-listed for an Adelaide Critics Circle Award.

A co-production with the Welsh National Opera

The Sacristan of the Church of Sant'Andrea della Valle brings food and wine for Mario Cavaradossi who is painting a picture of Mary Magdalen for the church. John Bolton Wood brings some fine humour to the start of the opera as the Sacristan, a light moment before things turn very dark indeed.

Cesare Angelotti's sister, the Marchesa Attavanti, has helped him escape from his imprisonment by Royalist supporters in the Castel Sant'Angelo. When he seeks refuge in the family chapel at the Church of Sant'Andrea della Valle, he is discovered by Cavaradossi, and he, too, helps Angelotti, giving him the food and drink. Jeremy Tatchell conveys all of the terror of the escapee superbly. His fear of recapture and execution is in his eyes and his voice.

Floria Tosca arrives and sees the painting of Mary Magdalen for which Cavaradossi has used a lady he has seen as his model. It happens to be the Marchesa Attavanti. Tosca is jealous but he pacifies her and they arrange to meet later. We have already heard the magnificent tenor voice of Rosario La Spina before this point, of course, but now Kate Ladner adds her glorious soprano in a duet that ends as a declaration of love and devotion.

She leaves and then Cavaradossi flees with Angelotti to hide him at his villa. The Sacristan mistakenly announces the defeat of Napoleon and the crowd who have arrived prepare to sing a Te Deum, but they are interrupted by the arrival of Baron Scarpia, seeking Angelotti. Mario Bellanova is a powerful presence, commanding the stage as Scarpia, his voice filled with authority he is wonderfully sly when Tosca returns, convincing her that Cavaradossi is cheating on her. She heads for Cavaradossi's villa followed by Spoletta, Scarpia's agent. Bernard Hull brings a sinister edge to the role of Spoletta. Another of Scarpia's men, Sciarrone, is in the capable hands of Pelham Andrews.

The State Opera Chorus gets their chance now to sing the Te Deum, and sing they do, their voices soaring with Puccini's big finish to the first act. Timothy Sexton, CEO and artistic director of State Opera is also the chorus master and he has every reason to be proud of his singers.

The second act finds Scarpia in his apartment where Bellanova brings out the deviousness of the Baron, sending Spoletta into a nearby room to torture Cavaradossi within hearing of Tosca until she tells where Angelotti is hiding. News comes back that he killed himself, then more news of Napoleon's victory. Cavaradossi expresses his happiness at this, and is condemned to death. La Spina is very convincing as a man who has suffered a beating. Ladner is equally convincing in her distress at his suffering. The three lead performers prove that opera singers can also act.

Scarpia then agrees to save Cavaradossi with a faked firing squad, if Tosca will give herself to him. She reluctantly accepts his offer and he signs a travel pass for her and Cavaradossi. He then tries to force himself on her, but she stabs him to death.

The third act is atop the Castel Sant'Angelo, with Peter Anton von Verschaffelt's 1753 bronze statue of Michael the Archangel prominently displayed. A shepherd boy is heard singing, Angus Brill Reed on opening night and the 17th, Jack Raft on the other two nights, and Cavaradossi is brought in to face his execution, with Robert England as the Gaoler appearing far too briefly.

Although dead, Scarpia has one more trick to play on Tosca. The firing squad is real. Scarpia's men have found his body and have come for her, but she escapes by jumping to her death. How she does this is a secret that will cost you a ticket to discover.

Nicholas Braithwaite and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra bring out every nuance in Puccini's score, which carries so much of the emotional power in the opera, and they maintained a remarkable balance with the singers. Cath Dadd's direction shows great insight into the characters and their relationships, which is brought out in the performances. Ashley Martin-Davies's sets and costumes are stunning and come to life vividly under the lighting designed by Nigel Levings.

The entire package is a 'must see' for any lover of opera and, if you have never seen one, you might as well start with one of the greatest operas. Tosca has not been performed in Adelaide for a very long time so take this opportunity to attend an exceptional performance while you can.

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