Is THERE any more powerful and emotive theatre in Puccini’s operas than Act 2 of Tosca? Certainly the way it has been portrayed since 1980 in the late Anthony Besch’s pungent and persistently recurring production for Scottish Opera, now in its seventh revival, together with Peter Rice’s majestic sets, leaves you in no doubt of that it is opera at its most exhilarating and moving.
Nothing is lost of the moment Scarpia taunts Tosca with the full extent of his evil before terrorising her into murdering him in this latest revival, redirected by Jonathan Cocker with due respect for the integrity of Besch’s original concept which updates the action from Napoleonic Rome to Fascist Italy of the 1940s.
And it’s in this act that Susannah Glanville’s portrayal of Tosca reaches its sublimest heights. Not only does she hold the stage with thoroughly convincing acting, but sings with a rapturous intensity that, by the murder scene, was both breathtaking and overwhelming.
How could Robert Poulton’s dry and menacing Scarpia fail to stand up to that? No problems there, with a portrayal last night that exuded misplaced power, stopped well short of caricature, adding to the horrifying realism of the moment.
It was here, too, that Francesco Corti’s brisk musical direction finally gelled after an opening act that lacked fluidity and impact. Instead of the mis-coordination that had earlier killed the climax of Tosca and Cavaradossi’s big Act 1 duet, now the orchestral underscore was like a red hot underscore, burnished and dramatically taut.
José Ferrero’s truest moment as Cavaradossi came at the end, with a vocal assuredness that matched that of Glanville’s memorable Tosca. The one real disappointment? Surely the lack of impact from a lean-looking chorus in the Te Deum.