Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Keith Bruce


IN SOME respects the ovation that greeted this latest revival of Anthony Besch’s Mussolini-era Tosca was surprisingly subdued, although it would be interesting to know for how may of the first night audience the staging held few surprises.

The crucial new ingredient is the soprano in the title role, Natalya Romaniw, and her performance is absolutely captivating every moment she is on the stage. Vocally she is quite masterly, perfectly measured against the instrumental music so that every note is audible, and movingly expressive. Romaniw has a quite superb voice and knows exactly how to use it. If her diction is not always as crisp as some might like, that was also true of both her Cavaradossi (Gwyn Hughes Jones) and Scarpia (Roland Wood), and I’d have liked a little more menace in the latter’s portrayal of one of opera’s great baddies.

The soprano, on the other hand, gives us exactly the mix of naivety and command that Puccini requires of the title role. Although Joseph Kerman’s description of Tosca as a “shabby little shocker” may hold more than a grain of truth - the faux execution in the final scene is as clumsy a plot device as there is - it is anything but shabby in this staging. Peter Rice’s designs have been beautifully restored and Act One in particular is a glorious spectacle, with the Scottish Opera chorus in fine voice. Revival director Jonathan Cocker maintains some very mannered blocking for both the processing and the principals, and it suits the piece very well.

To match that, it would have been nice to hear a little more edge in the playing from the pit. While conductor Stuart Stratford and the orchestra began boldly enough, the tension in the music, which is so perfectly, if sometimes cheesily, matched to the narrative, lapsed later, and nowhere more so than at the beginning of Act Three. Few folk will be wondering about the likely outcome of the story by then, so ramping things up is really the only way to go. And Romaniw’s voice is more than capable of dominating anything the orchestra does.

Her Tosca will surely travel the world in other productions, and all opera-lovers should be sure to see her in this bulletproof one when the opportunity is there.