A review by Julia Gasper
A great opera, a great production and great singers – that is what we were privileged to hear on Friday evening when Ellen Kent opera put on Puccini’s Tosca at the New Theatre. Alyona Kistenyova, in the title role, gave us all the passion, the fury and superb singing we have come to expect from her. The production is utterly gripping. It is glowing with rich colour and vitality and creates an atmosphere of suspense from the very first. We experience rapture, terror and finally despair in this dark story of love and the struggle for freedom.
The opening scene in the church of Sant’Andrea in Rome was beautifully presented, with touching gentle comedy as Tosca confesses herself jealous of the blue-eyed beauty Cavaradossi (Ruslan Zinevych) has been using as his model for a painting of Mary Magdelene. Tosca senses that there is something wrong, but he dare not tell her he is sheltering a fugitive revolutionary. A crowd of nuns and youthful choristers create a charming spectacle until the entrance of the menacing Baron Scarpia, Chief of Police, who tyrannizes over the entire state. The moment was awesome. Vladimir Dragos was a truly sinister Scarpia, a power-mad and sinister libertine who proclaims his creed of lust frankly. Women are there to be used in his view, and he skilfully manipulates Tosca’s jealousy until he gets her to lead his soldiers to the fugitive’s hiding-place. How versatile this baritone is- only yesterday he sang the drunken gaoler in Die Fledermaus, and made us laugh. As Scarpia, he made our flesh creep, particularly in Act 2 when he comes very close to raping Tosca. He tortures her by torturing Cavaradossi, knowing that to hear her beloved’s cries of pain is unbearable to her. Kistenyova conveyed with fine nuances the gradual change that desperation makes in a woman who never thought herself capable of a violent act.
Her performance of the celebrated Vissi d’Arte aria was emotionally powerful, but never lost its pure, exquisite tone for a second. Zinevych’s delivery of the much-loved E lucevan le stelle (The stars were shining), with its yearning nostalgia for a moment of perfect happiness for the lovers, suddenly seeming so long ago, was flawless. The ending, with its brutal betrayal and tragedy, was compelling and the orchestra rose to all the demands of this difficult score.
The story of Tosca is a deeply serious one about the struggle for freedom against tyranny. It could be shifted in essence to many different times and places. Despite the tragedy, we hear that Bonaparte has won the Battle of Marengo, promising that in the end republican ideals, which Puccini firmly believed in, would triumph over mere brute force and autocracy. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Look at Scarpia, it certainly had that effect on him.
How much longer will Ellen Kent Opera be able to retain stars of this calibre? I expect to read every day that Kistenyova and her co-star, Zinevych, have been snapped up to sing at La Scala, Covent Garden and the Met. Until they are, we can count ourselves fortunate that Ellen Kent found them in Eastern Europe and gave them a chance to perform more widely.
The New Theatre ought to be sold out for this evening’s performance of Carmen, and if you missed Tosca last night, you could still hope to see it at another tour venue. Look at their website. It’s on in Birmingham on Sunday 28th February and then in Windsor on Tuesday March 1st. For any Puccini lover, I would say this production is unmissable.
Julia Gasper 27th February 2016.
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