Irish National Opera at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, on 11 July 2022
It is a treat to hear an opera played and sung as well as it is tonight, and then to go out into the summer night – it’s like being at an opera festival. Add to this Puccini’s ‘Tosca’, with its bold gestures, doomed lovers, and colourful score, and it makes for an enticing prospect.
From the beginning, the first thing to notice is the vivid sound of the orchestra itself, full of rich and vibrant colour. Past problems with the acoustic here seem a pale memory, or maybe Puccini’s orchestration suits this space better than earlier music. Conducted by newcomer Nil Venditti, she leads an all-female musical direction team (including chorus master and assistant conductor), possibly a first for this company, and a fact worth celebrating alone.
The curtain rises to reveal a weighty church setting for the opening act, brutalist concrete columns and a heavy cross-like structure hanging overhead. Set in mid-twentieth century dress, there is a feeling of Italian neorealist cinema, with fleeting figures dwarfed by a hostile world. The first of these is John Molloy as escaped dissident Angelotti. Molloy wastes no time in projecting urgency and depth, a striking contrast to his usual comic roles. As the sacristan, Graeme Danby breathes vivid life into this stock character, while the painter Mario Cavaradossi is given a theatrically solid performance by tenor Dimitri Pittas.
Central to this production is Sinéad Campbell Wallace’s sensational singing as the title character. Tosca is a demanding role for any artist, as the character’s journey across a wide emotional spectrum from jealous pride to desperate passion requires a richly-textured voice, expressing by turns vulnerability, wit, and strength. Campbell Wallace reflects all of this and more in her perceptive interpretation.
As she seems to succumb to the villainous Baron Scarpia (sung by bass-baritone Tómas Tómasson, in fearsome form) in their disturbing second act face-off, she sings one of the few arias in this work. Vissi d’arte (‘I lived for art…’) comes across not as the usual showpiece solo, but begins in the moment, suggesting an inward turn, the sudden softness and gentle colouring of her sound simply heart-stopping.
There is a lot to see and enjoy here, with smart staging across the three acts in Michael Gieleta’s production. In the final act the shepherd-boy (treble Joe Dwyer), transformed here into a Felliniesque urchin/angel, adds a dreamlike element as well as anticipating the tragic end. As is now customary, the audience rise to their feet, loudly applauding company, soloists, conductor and creative team, but what else is there to do? This is a great show, well worth seeing.
Giacomo Puccini: Tosca
Sung in Italian (libretto by Guiseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica), with English surtitles and English spoken dialogue
Produced by Irish National Opera
Director: Michael Gieleta; Set/Costume Designer: Gary McCann; Lighting Designer: Ciaran Bagnall; Conductor: Nil Venditti
Cast (in order of appearance): John Molloy (Cesare Angelotti), Graeme Danby (Sacristan), Dimitri Pittas (Mario Cavaradossi), Sinéad Campbell Wallace (Floria Tosca), Tómas Tómasson (Scarpia), Michael Bell (Spoletta), Rory Dunne (Sciarrone), Joe Dwyer (Shepherd), Fionn Ó hAlmhain (Jailer); INO Chorus & Children’s Chorus
Photography by Pat Redmond