reviewed at the Harlow Playhouse on 6 September
This new production of Puccini’s Tosca from the Russian State Opera & Ballet Theatre of Astrakhan which is on a nationwide tour of the UK until 13 October is directed by Konstantin Balakin and designed by Elena Vershinina. They have kept the Italian setting but pushed the time forward to the crumbling of Mussolini’s dictatorship.
Between them they keep the action taut and musical director Valerii Voronin sweeps his orchestra and soloists along at the same pace. Vershinina’s set has all the clutter of an Italian Catholic church of the period while Scarpia’s office is a Big Brother nightmare of vertiginous filing drawers and secret cubbyholes which can reveal a drinks cabinet or window into the queen’s Farnese Palace apartments – or serve as the door into a torture chamber.
“A shabby little shocker” sniffed Joseph Kerman in the 1950s; we in western Europe might see it as being in the British melodrama and the French grand guignol tradition. What carries a modern audience into the depth of the story is primarily Puccini’s score but also the ferocious combat between the three main characters.
In Andrey Puzhalin the company has a Scarpia who bears comparison with the best I have heard – and although comparisons, as Dogberry affirms, “are odorous”, my benchmark for the rôle is Gobbi. A vulpine predator barely constricted by his office (in both sense of the word), his onslaught on Tosca from the cathedral scene to the end of the second act is unrelenting – but finely phrased throughout.
Elena Razguliaeva in the title part matches Puzhalin, from her coquettish jealousy over Cavaradossi’s painting of the Magdalene in the first act, through her mental torture culminating in Scarpia’s murder and a finely sung “Vissi d’arte”, to the roller-coaster of emotions for the final act.
Her Cavaradossi at the performance which I saw is Mikhail Makarov, a full-voiced tenor who sounded a trifle rough at the beginning but worked through to an affecting lyricism for his farewell to life in “E lucevan le stelle”. Two of the smaller parts also stand out as well-sung and well-acted – Ivan Michailov’s Spoletta and Oleksandr Malyshko’s fresh-faced yet hardened Sciarrone.
Could I please persuade the company to employ a proof-reader – there are ludicrous mistakes in both the programme and the surtitles – and also supply a type-written cast list for the evening’s performance. Little things, I know, but they do add to an audience’s enjoyment as well as that delicious activity known as talent-spotting.
Four star rating.
Tosca also plays at the Princes Theatre, Clacton-on-Sea on 10 September, the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 11 September, the Marina Theatre, Lowestoft on 19 September and the Alban Arena, St Albans on 20 September.