Puccini’s Tosca is generally agreed to be the pre-eminent operatic thriller, but rarely does it pack such a sequence of visceral punches as it does in Edward Dick’s observant production, tautly conducted by Antony Hermus.
Designers Tom Scutt and Fotini Dimou move the plot from the original setting – Rome in 1800, with Napoleon’s army not far away, and those sympathising with him in imminent danger if not actually in prison – to some undefined but brutal modern dictatorship. Scarpia watches Tosca singing her cantata and the torture of Cavaradossi on his laptop. His henchmen have hi-tech communications to aid them in their vicious schemes.
All of this works well, but what gives the show its edge-of-the-seat quality are individual performances that are minutely focused and which meld together to maintain a vice-like grip that doesn’t loosen for a second.
Vocally and dramatically all three principals are rock solid. Rafael Rojas convinces as the brave – if not actually foolhardy – artist Cavaradossi, his ardent tone matching his impulsive nature. Robert Hayward has done nothing finer than this Scarpia, a complex portrayal of one of the great villains sung with terrifying command.
In the title role Giselle Allen explores every facet of the vulnerable, volatile diva, making a highlight of her description of her murder of would-be rapist Scarpia – a moment that rarely registers as powerfully as here. Her combination of passion and discipline proves infallible.
Secondary roles – John Savournin’s firmly sung, understandably fearful Angelotti, Rupert Charlesworth’s borderline psychopathic Spoletta, Ben Hayes’ immaculately voiced Shepherd Boy – add further distinction. Opera North’s chorus and orchestra send shivers down your spine in the Te Deum.
But it’s the integrity – musical and dramatic – of the whole that makes this Tosca an unforgettable operatic experience.