The first few months of the year are always interesting for Opera lovers as Ellen Kent Productions bring, over three nights, three different operas to The Playhouse Edinburgh. This year’s trio are Die Fledermaus (could not make that one last night), Tosca and Carmen (tomorrow night)
Tosca is one of the modern classics in the opera world. Adapted by Puccini from Victorien Sardou's French language play and an Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, the work finally saw its debut as an opera (after a few issues and several years) with Puccini’s music . The result is a classic with one of the great stories and female roles of the genre.
I have always liked Puccini’s music, so Tosca has that head start for me always. Interesting to me is that you can hear in little parts of the music, themes that Puccini was to develop further for his next opera Madama Butterfly.
Tosca is the story of celebrated singer Floria Tosca as she is forced into choices and actions to save her lover, the painter Mario Cavaradossi, who has become trapped in the politics of helping an escaped prisoner. His fate for this is torture and facing a firing squad. Only by giving the corrupt chief of police,Baron Scarpia, what he wants can Tosca possibly hope to save her lover’s life (what he gets though is “Tosca’s Kiss”). A bit simplistic an overview, but Tosca and Scarpia are one of the great good versus evil characters in any story ever written
Tosca is beautiful, and she knows it, but she is also very jealous of any other woman coming near her man, and it is this inherent jealousy and instability that allows all of Baron Scarpia’s plots to take shape. International soprano star Alyona Kistenyova , who played Cio-Cio San in Madama Butterfly in last year’s Ellen Kent production is a very good Tosca and apart from that wonderful soprano voice, gives us a fine interpretation of Tosca – a beautiful but vain, distrustful at times woman in part, but also a strong woman who will stand up for herself and do whatever is needed to protect those she loves. Tosca’s character is in total contrast to the Cio-Cio San portrayal of last year and it is always interesting to see a performer that is able to adapt to such different roles with such ease. Alyona’s rendition of "Vissi d'arte" ("I lived for art, I lived for love") of course stole the evening.
Vitalii Liskovetskyi as Mario Cavaradossi gives us some strong vocals including a very good performance of the classic "E lucevan le stelle" ("And the stars shone"). Great vocals, but somehow that bond as great lovers between Mario and Tosca did not seem to be there all of the time, but their duets are great. Part of the problem here of course is that Mario as a character is somewhat overshadowed by the villainy of Scarpia, and that part was played in real villainous style by Vladimir Dragos (who I saw last year). Scarpia really is a villain of his time, almost vaudevillian at times. This opera really does belong to Tosca and Scarpia.
Tosca is one of the few operas that, even when you strip the music away, you still have a very strong story, and that may be part of the enduring appeal of this work. Tosca, like all the great stories out there is strong enough to place the characters in pretty much any time period or scenario and it will still work. Everything is here - love, passion, torture, murder, suicide, jealousy and of course great good and evil characters in Tosca and Scarpia.
Tosca was just another example of what Ellen Kent Productions do – bring opera to a mass audience and at an affordable price and bringing some very good talent to present it. Some people out there may not like to admit it, but Eastern Europe has proven itself to be a resource of great classical and operatic talent over the past number of years and Ellen Kent Productions give us a little glimpse of just what talent is out there from this region.
With an Ellen Kent Production you have to be realistic, this is a touring production putting on a different opera each night, so you are not going to get the huge production sets (this set tonight was very good too) from a company like The Metropolitan or The Royal Opera House, and you are not going to get the huge stars that these productions can command, but you are going to get high performance and good production standards that make a night at the opera affordable to many people.
I like Ellen Kent Productions a lot and look forward to tomorrow’s performance of one of my favourite works – Carmen.
Review by Tom King