Russian State Opera Take A Traditional Approach to Tosca

Russian State Opera,

Tosca,

Theatre Severn,

Wednesday September 27th    2017

 

What a tangled web of lies, deceit, passion, love, betrayal and emotion this show is. Puccini is at his toughest with this highly engaging but nevertheless challenging piece.

Set in Rome at the turn of the Nineteenth Century, Napoleon Bonaparte is knocking on the door before he finally takes the city. So in this decadence of war and strife the general order of things collapse and we see police corruption rear its ugly head, as it was known to do whenever there was a challenge to the status quo. Not just Police forces but in all offices of authority, where the thought of getting away with it is  highly appealing.

For helping a man on his way to escaping justice church artist ,Cavaradossi is held by the foul mannered chief of Police, Scarpia. Tosca, a local concert singer and love interest for Cavaradossi, learns her love is being held and tortured by the authorities for his part in the escape and subsequent cover up. Tosca pleads for clemency from Scarpia and he agrees to spare her lover if she would in turn, sleep with him. She kills him and somehow naively believes her troubles are all just going to vanish! Wrong.

The presentation of the piece was suitably Russian State Opera; always with an eye for directorial excellence. Blocking and use of space is an important part of the Director’s job and this company get all things right. As a rule…

However given the time it was chronologically challenging for the audience to see Scarpia talking to the torture chamber with a microphone on a lead, listening to Tosca's concert through electric speakers, he spoke on the telephone and lit his office with electric light. How? There was no disguising the fact that they were sticking to the Napoleonic era (1798) but to expect the audience to buy in to this anachronistic car crash was lazy and expected too much of the audience’s suspended disbelief.

Glaring mistakes notwithstanding one always knows that one is receiving something of quality with this company; which is all the more surprising as to why there was an inconsistent level in performers vocal power. Some of the singers were strong, rich and creamy, the full live orchestra was no masking challenge for these performers, however there were voices a little south of that expectation, which was disappointing.

It is a very heavy score. The arias are faultless and haunting but there is a glaringly obvious lack of any jolly good tunes. One was left with nothing to whistle on the way home. As Lorca is to Spanish Drama, maybe Puccini is to Italian Opera? That’s a debate for another time and for students cleverer than I ever was, but that is how one could view it from tonight’s story.

That is no reason to not perform the show however. It is as historical and as relevant as any other of the great operas. One just wishes Puccini’s view on life wouldn’t be so stark without let up. If one was to find a latter day comparison Les Miserables springs to mind. You know it’s good but you feel you really could use a little light relief along the tortuous route. One realises that it’s jolly difficult to find the humour in revolution or war. Consequently this is an historical relevance but that doesn’t make it emotionally any lighter.

The last twenty years has seen the advent of provincial theatres up and down the land. Consequently  it became viable to bring these wonderful culturally diverse companies into the UK. In Shrewsbury we see them all. At the very top of that tree sits the Russian State Opera, they are brilliant, they bring such wonderful work to us. One can also say that with this show they are not scared to take their jackets off roll up their proverbial sleeves and get stuck right in, but it remains tough going.

 

This is a Three Star Review.

 

Owen J.Lewis

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Owen Lewis Owen Lewis

Owen Lewis was born fifty something years ago in the land of the black puddings. For the geographically challenged that is in Lancashire. Moving to Shropshire From 1970 Owen was brought up in Church Stretton. His first real job was in radio. After starting on BBC Radio Shropshire he became known on Marcher Sound, broadcasting throughout the North West for several years. After a university degree course in Theatre, Owen became an actor and went on to play "Pirate Bill" in The Alton Towers Hotel. He also made several television appearances. Returning to university he took his PGCE enabling him to teach. That saw him on the Essex coast as a drama teacher and latterly as a Creative Educational Liaison Officer making films and creating new teaching methods to employ on children in need of more help in their fundamental learning skills. Published playwright Owen ultimately wants a house boat in Amsterdam to focus on his work as Playwright and Poet.

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