Every so often you go to an event where the excitement and anticipation among the audience beforehand is palpable, and that was the case at the opening night of Scottish Opera’s Tosca at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal. You could feel it building in the walk up to the doors and by the time the curtain was raised the atmosphere was electric. With such anticipation this Tosca had a lot to live up to but luckily for all of us it managed to and so much more.
The stage in Act One was set in the Roman church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, and it reflected the wealth of the church itself – using marble greys, sepia, and burnished gold as its main colour palette, every so often given a splash of colour of white and papal purple by visiting cardinals, priests, choirboys, and cross-bearers, as well as the yellow and red of the Swiss Guard. It was an imposing set, made more atmospheric by the way the stage was lit from the side rather than from above, the long shadows cast adding to the sense of foreboding that something wicked was on its way.
That something wicked came in the form of Baron Scarpia, the Chief of Police who is determined to steal famed singer Tosca from the arms of her lover, the painter Cavaradossi, by any means necessary. Played with a real sense of menace by Roland Wood in the finest tradition of the theatrical villain (and proving the adage that “the devil has all the best tunes”), he and his gang of fascisti followers strode the stage as if they owned it. However, even for them there is increasingly the sense that this tale is not going to end well, something only strengthened by the brief appearance of Il Duce himself, Benito Mussolini.
By this point we had already witnessed the depth of feeling that Tosca and Cavaradossi have for each other, with Natalya Romaniw and Gwyn Hughes Jones being at times loving, passionate, playful, jealous, and everything in-between as their love is threatened by circumstances as well as Scarpia’s evil intent. As events unfold they reveal just how far they are prepared to go for each other, and what they believe in. These two characters have the most to suffer, and Romaniw in-particular expressed the highs and lows of being in love in a manner which at times was almost unbearably moving. Hers is a Tosca to whom others will aspire.
This is an especially cinematic production, with a distinct style to each act. Act One had the look and feel of Derek Jarman, with religious iconography and sensuality interweaving, and the passion of the artist to the fore. Act Two had more than a hint of Martin Scorsese, with corruption, violence, and betrayal, looked at with an unflinching and often brutal eye. Act Three, with the stage dominated by a huge statue of an angel at Castel Sant’Angelo, was Wim Wenders meets Powell and Pressburger – the perfect setting for the fatal final acts. Whether you know the story of Tosca or not the end still has the power to move and shock, something which is a testament to everyone involved.
This Tosca is a production to get lost in, to be overcome by and surrender to – resistance is futile. Often with longer pieces of theatre you are aware of audience members checking their watches or shifting in their seats. I didn’t witness one example of this on the night as the audience was rapt from beginning to end, completely absorbed by what was unfolding on stage. If that sounds like something you would like to witness for yourself then you can do so in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness, and Edinburgh. If it doesn’t, then go to the top of the page and start reading again. I’m sure you’ll change your mind.