Music review: Scottish Opera: Tosca, Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Roland Wood, left, is a terrifying Scarpia; the whole cast vocally exhilaring in Scottish Opera's Tosca
Roland Wood, left, is a terrifying Scarpia; the whole cast vocally exhilaring in Scottish Opera's Tosca
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It’s nearly 40 years since Anthony Besch’s 1940s fascisti update production of Tosca was created for Scottish Opera, and it stands by the old adage: if something ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So here it is, back again, and none the worse for it.

Scottish Opera: Tosca, Theatre Royal, Glasgow ****

We’re in an insurgent Rome and Mussolini’s regime is a devilish theatre of fear, bribery and corruption. Scarpia, Puccini’s police chief, is its vile product. I take what I want, when I want, then throw it to the dogs, is his mantra. Roland Wood’s portrayal is brutally unfeeling, hideously misogynistic, terrifying. Knifing by Tosca is too kind.

No one comes out smelling of roses. Cavaradossi falls victim to Scarpia’s false promise of mock execution. Tosca’s responsive leap from the battlements of Castel Sant’Angelo is desperation personified. This is tragedy-for-all exonerated by the very best in operatic theatre.

Jonathan Cocker’s faithful re-direction acknowledges that genius. Against the sumptuous and scrupulous realism of Peter Rice’s authentic Rome-scapes, the dramaturgy is sweeping, stylised, powerfully choreographed, the emotive extremes of Act 2 like a rollercoaster ride to hell, assuaged by the sleepy subterfuge of Act 3.

What doesn’t work so well is the close of Act 1, that momentous shift from intimacy and intrigue to the sudden swell of public worship, and a climax that lives by its musical heat, religious excess and force in numbers. Solid though the small chorus is, this prize moment on Thursday seemed more diminished than previous revivals, the church organ simulation in the pit insipid, the ultimate thrill factor lessened. Some might even question the liturgical authenticity.

To this point there was also a sense that conductor Stuart Stratford and his orchestra were feeling their way. Yes, there was visceral excitement from the get go, and a delicious raw clarity in the ensemble throughout, but it wasn’t until Act 2 that Stratford breathed instinctive passion into the score, from here on in engulfed by those impulsive Puccinian sweeps that tug mercilessly at the heartstrings.

Welsh soprano Natalya Romaniw comes to her first Tosca as a natural, imbuing the title role with all-consuming intensity, the mahogany warmth of her lower register issuing resilience in contrast to the fervour of her high Cs, her “Vissi d’arte” masterfully pitched. Gwyn Hughes Jones’ Cavaradossi is exhilarating vocally, evocative of the character’s vying sensitivities. Dingle Yandell gives capacious stature to the short-lived Angelotti.

KEN WALTON