Giacomo Puccini’s opera in three acts, Tosca, originally premiering at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome in 1900, is one of the jewels in the Italian composer’s crown, beloved not only for the fact that it contains some of his most well-known lyrical arias, but because the dramatic force of its plot and characters (it is set in Rome against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars) continues to hold sway, long after its initial outing.
In director Stuart Mander’s Tosca, we remain in Rome, but the context has shifted slightly, the action moving forward in time to the Cold War (an equally-troubling period in Italy’s history.) It is against this backdrop of corruption, suspicion and political turmoil that we are introduced to the mother of all love triangles, one that trades in life and death rather than bruised egos or a broken heart.
The love triangle in question is comprised of painter and reluctant revolutionary, Cavaradossi (WAAPA’s Paul O’Neill), the eponymous Tosca (Antoinette Halloran), and the scheming, venal Scarpia (Teddy Tahu Rhodes), whose attempts at wooing Tosca shift from the seductive and conniving through to the outright aggression depicted in a decidedly bloody Second Act.
Tosca has not been without its critics. While it was immediately embraced by members of the public, critics were less than laudatory. It was famously dubbed by musicologist Joseph Kerman a “shabby little shocker” because of its overt melodrama and multiple plot confusions. In many ways, the critique is justified – there’s enough melodrama in Tosca to rival most episodes of Days of Our Lives. Unlike Days of Our Lives, however, Tosca balances this perceived failing with rich characters and an inventive, powerful score.
Antoinette Halloran is particularly compelling as Tosca, bringing a mix of passion, repose and vulnerability to the role. She also injects some much-needed comic relief into Act Three, urging the inexperienced Cavaradossi to mimic her dramatic stage dive in his upcoming (supposedly-feigned) execution.
It would be incorrect, however, to call this a one-woman show. Teddy Tahu Rhodes brings his usual braggadocio to the role, combing it with the venal, seething menace of the morally-bankrupt Scarpia, intent on acquiring the beautiful Tosca at any cost. Paul O’Neill is equally convincing as Cavaradossi, Tosca’s loyal and ill-fated lover.
There’s a reason Tosca remains one of Puccini’s most beloved, and frequently performed operas. the power of its score and the originality of its orchestration have been widely acknowledged. Occasionally, there seemed to be a slight lag between the orchestra (conducted by Brad Cohen) and the vocals, but this was not enough to detract from otherwise compelling and assured performances.
WA Opera presents
Director Stuart Maunder
Venue: His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth
Dates: 28, 30 March & 1, 4, 6, 8 April 2017
Tickets: $44 – $129