Tosca is one of the finest of operas, one of the few of the great 19th Century works which resonate as strongly, or indeed, more strongly today than when written. Sadly, this is the result of its context of the quest for liberty in the midst of totalitarianism, denial of justice, police state spying, legally sanctioned torture and religious hypocrisy, which have all survived and thrived in much of the world into the 21st century.
The John Copley production, including Allan Lees’ magnificent sets, Michael Stennett’s costumes and Don Byrnes’ ligthing design, is one of the great artistic creations of the late 20th Century. Opera Queensland does justice to this enduring production with a very good cast of principal singers backed up by fine orchestral work and chorus.
Arax Mansourian is not as overtly sensuous as some Toscas, but plays the role well. With her beautiful clear voice she comes into her own in the Act I duet with Cavaradossi “Non la sospiri”, while her Act II solo “Vissi d’arte” is a real hit. Patrick Power’s lovely lyric tenor voice gives us a beautiful rendering of Cavaradossi’s Act I aria “Recondita armonia” as well as the big Act III number “E lucevan le stelle”. Very impressive also is his moment of joy in the midst of his suffering (“Vittoria! Vittoria!”) when news comes through of a military victory by a presumed liberator.
Kimm Julian is very comfortable in the role of Scarpia. He exudes arrogance and self-confidence. His laying bare of his lustful motives evokes immediate contrast with Cavaradossi’s earlier eulogy to the “harmony of contrasts” in the diverse beauties of women. Scarpia also appreciates female diversity, but in a quite different way he wants to pursue what he desires, possess and discard it. Julian is perfect in his Act II game playing with Tosca, projecting his total command of the situation and his certainty of the outcome until he receives the fateful “kiss of Tosca”.
John Dingle’s chorus sing lustily and magnificently in their relatively limited role in the drama. Although not seen after Act I (but their later off-stage work is superb), it would have been nice if they had been kept back for the final curtain calls, so they could share in the audience appreciation.
Rehearsal director Luise Napier has worked her charges well. The interplay of characters at various levels is successful. I was particularly impressed at the way support cast in the role of guards and officials played their parts. Going about their duties with ruthless efficiency but eyes downcast, they evoked Tolstoy’s observations of the dehumanising effect of being part of a police state: they somehow succeeded in appearing good at their work while feeling bad about it.