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Performances

Kari Postma
26 Oct 2018

Dutch touring Tosca is an edge-of-your-seat thriller

Who needs another Tosca? Seasoned opera buffs can be blasé about repertoire mainstays. But the Nederlandse Reisopera’s production currently touring the Netherlands is worth seeing, whether it is your first or your hundred-and-first acquaintance with Puccini’s political drama. The staging is refreshing and pacey. Musically, it has the four crucial ingredients: three accomplished leads and a conductor who swashbuckles through the score in a blaze of color.

Dutch touring Tosca is an edge-of-your-seat thriller

A review by Jenny Camilleri

Above: Kari Postma

 

The plot of Tosca is as time- and location-specific as they come. The action takes place in Rome in June 1800, as news of Napoleon’s victory at Marengo reaches the city, then in the hands of his enemies. Chief of police and reactionary baddie Scarpia is hounding opera diva Floria Tosca and her freethinking revolutionary lover, the painter Cavaradossi. Scarpia wants her for himself and him dead. In the libretto’s source, Victorien Sardou’s play La Tosca, none of the protagonists is actually Roman. Tosca, Cavaradossi and Scarpia, are, respectively, Veronese, French and Sicilian. However, Rome is ingrained in the score, which sweeps over its vistas picking up its sounds, most famously its bells. Conductor David Parry rendered the orchestral cityscapes with broad, brilliant brushstrokes. In a performance brimming with energy, the Orkest van het Oosten played for him with the exuberance of a light-refracting fountain. It was easy to forgive a few intonation slips when the lovers’ passion burned with such fever and the chords of death came down so shudderingly.

Director Harry Fehr tenuously hangs on to the place, but lets go of the time particulars. His characters live in a repressive police state in an indeterminate present. The three well-known Roman sites of the libretto become anonymous locations drained of color. Brightness is reserved for Tosca’s wardrobe, and the one crowd scene in church, when costume designer Yannis Thavoris puts on an impressive display of clerical vestments. Thanks to the canny use of video, all three acts are set in Scarpia’s police headquarters, where he keeps the whole city under surveillance. John Bishop’s lighting suggests office dreariness without assaulting the eye with unremitting starkness. In Acts 1 and 3 the singers are doubled by pre-filmed footage of themselves on the surveillance screens. CCTV cameras catch Cavaradossi trying to help his friend Angelotti avoid capture, Scarpia fanning Tosca’s jealousy and, finally, Cavaradossi’s execution. Inevitably, there are disjunctures when the video doesn’t exactly mirror what the singers are doing live. But, instead of being distracting, these discrepancies intensify the oppressive atmosphere. In Act 2, Cavaradossi’s torture and Scarpia’s sexual assault on Tosca actually take place at the police headquarters. The screen is then ingeniously used to show a televised broadcast of Tosca singing a cantata with the choir, usually only heard offstage. It all plays out like a nail-biting thriller.

Fehr has a firm grip on the singers’ direction and they did him proud. Phillip Rhodes neither looked nor sounded like a vindictive sleazeball, which is precisely why his well-groomed, outwardly respectable Scarpia was so chilling. His supple baritone always sounded noble, effortlessly rising to the thundering Te Deum finale. Only at the end of “Già mi dicon venal”, when Scarpia pounces on Tosca, did Rhodes allow a tinge of vulgarity into his voice. His Scarpia was a textbook assimilated sociopath. Noah Stewart was an outstanding Cavaradossi, his svelte, sunlit tenor switching from caressing to clarion as required. He attacked his top notes cleanly and fearlessly, most successfully the sustained high B natural on “La vita mi costasse”. Soprano Kari Postma does not have the warmly Italianate sound usually associated with Tosca. Her metallic top rockets confidently out of a rich middle range, whose slightly veiled quality sometimes clouded her words. Yet she was an admirable Tosca, temperamental yet poised, inflecting each phrase with intelligence. Regrettably, her beautifully shaped “Vissi d’arte” was marred by a timing mishap with the pit.

Curiously, Postma had more chemistry, if that’s the correct term, with Scarpia than with Cavaradossi. In his khaki Bermudas, Stewart’s Cavaradossi looked like he was barely out of art school, while Postma was all urban sophistication. Not every woman can carry off a canary-yellow coat like she did. Still, they made the relationship wholly credible, and, although very different in timbre, their duetting voices produced an exciting cocktail. In Act 2, however, Postma and Rhodes scorched the set with their dance of hatred and lust. Her fierce, clear-headed stabbing of the police chief in his swivel chair brought the act to a hair-raising end. All supporting roles were at the very least adequately cast. Baritone Oleksandr Pushniak as the sacristan and soprano Bernadeta Astari as the shepherd boy, here transformed into a night-time cleaner, stood out with their lovely singing. Consensus Vocalis and the children’s choir further enhanced this punchy Tosca, which continues to tour until the 13th of November, 2018.

Jenny Camilleri


Cast and production information:

Floria Tosca: Kari Postma; Mario Cavaradossi: Noah Stewart; Scarpia: Phillip Rhodes; Cesare Angelotti: Roman Ialcic; Sacristan: Oleksandr Pushniak; Spoletta: Michael J. Scott; Sciarrone: Simon Wilding; A jailer: Alexander de Jong; Shepherd Boy: Bernadeta Astari. Director: Harry Fehr; Set and Costume Design: Yannis Thavoris; Lighting Design: John Bishop; Video: Silbersalz Film. Conductor: David Parry. Consensus Vocalis. Tosca Children’s Choir. Het Orkest van het Oosten. Seen at the Zuiderstrandtheater, The Hague, on Thursday, 25th of October, 2018.

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