Opera Van Diemensland's recent production of Puccini's masterpiece Tosca at the Independent Theatre under the direction of Martin Buckingham was a courageous and largely successful offering of a great work. The soloists, ensemble and small orchestra achieved moments of great dramatic success and for a low budget small scale production with minimal set, costumes and lighting the overall result was good.
Martin Buckingham's portrayal of the painter Cavaradossi was very impressive and his rich tenor voice easily negotiated the demands of this challenging role. From the outset, Buckingham's acting was pleasingly understated which worked well in the small theatre and he sang his first aria Recondita Armonia with great beauty of tone and elegance – from this point on I knew we were in for a skilful performance from the young tenor. Other highlights of Buckingham's performance were a heartbreaking rendition of the famous aria E Lucevan le Stelle and a show-stopping declamation of the words 'Vittoria, Vittoria' in which the tenor combined believable acting with an incredible voice.
Cavaradossi's love interest and the eponymous heroine of the opera, Tosca – sung by Anna-Louise Cole – was convincing although overly petulant in the first act. Tosca is a spoilt and jealous character it is true, however if the pouting and petulance is overdone, we end up disliking the character altogether. Cole sang Vissi' d'arte with poise and elegance, and she is no doubt a talented singer with a large voice which was possibly too large for the Independent Theatre with its extremely resonant acoustic. As a result and particularly in the first half, the soprano's tone was at times on the harsh side – perhaps had Cole been performing in a larger auditorium this would not have been the case as the voice would have had more room to resonate. Her acting in the second half was more convincing and overall this was a very good performance.
Sitiveni Talei in the role of Scarpia was confident and convincing although not quite creepy enough for my liking. As the embodiment of evil treachery and lecherous behaviour it would have been good to see more lasciviousness and perhaps the errant wondering of hands over Tosca's body, particularly given that this was a modern production played to a modern audience. These observations aside, Talei's singing was splendidly full bodied and assured with a great warmth of tone that easily filled the hall without putting any strain on the audience's ears.
The other smaller roles – Andrew Williams as Angelotti, Greg McCreanor as the Sacristan, Adam Player as Spoletta, and Ian Fisher as Sciarrone were all well sung and convincingly acted. Fisher in particular made a convincing thug.
The orchestral score of Puccini's opera is sheer musical genius that normally makes me jump for joy, however on the day the orchestra wasn't quite up to the task. Reduced in size and visible to the audience, the musicians – under the direction of Steven Stanke – managed at times to capture the full lushness of the original score, although at other moments were so out of tune that I couldn't help cringing. I am not sure why there were such issues with the tuning but it was a persistent problem throughout the performance.
Buckingham's production used the space very cleverly to overcome the space limitations of the theatre and the modern costuming and the reworked suicide of Tosca at the end of the opera worked a treat, although I was a little disappointed not to see her famous leap off the Castelo San Angelo. The use of projector to create the inside of the church and the wondering back and forth of character's behind the screen to create shadows and movement was effective in creating a sense of space and distance and also added to the 'behind the scenes' terror.
Buckingham took on a momentous task with this project and to direct a production in which you are also singing the lead role is admirable and corageous; and whilst this was by no means a perfect production, given the limitations of the theatre and the budget at hand, it was a highly commendable effort and a dramatic success.
Opera Van Diemensland & Sydney Independent Opera present
music Giacomo Puccini | libretto Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa
Director Martin Buckingham
Venue: The Independent Theatre | 269 Miller Street, North Sydney
Dates: 8, 10, 11 Oct 2015
Tickets: $26 – $50