ToscaLyric Opera presents Puccini’s Tosca at the National Concert Hall on Saturday 17 May 2014

Billed as one of the great operatic thrillers, Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca (1900) makes for an enthralling night’s entertainment. Originally set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars, Luigi Illica’s libretto transports us through a whirlwind tale of political unrest, jealousy, passion, love, attempted rape, deceit, corruption and death. Under the directorship of the effervescent artistic director and designer Vivian J. Coates, Lyric Opera attacks this musical challenge with respectable aplomb.

From the opening three bars of the first Act, the fiery baton of David Angus ignites the RTÉ Concert Orchestra into a musical frenzy of descending chromatic motifs, reflective of the overall melodramatic tone of the work. The scene unfolds to reveal Cesare Angelotti (Stephen Fennelly), an escaped political prisoner seeking sanctuary in the Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle. Whilst hidden in the family chapel, Angelotti watches as the painter Mario Cavaradossi (Michael Wade Lee) works on his portrait of Mary Magdalene – a painting inspired by Marchessa Attavanti, the convict’s sister, and Cavaradossi’s lover, the singer Floria Tosca.

A rather frumpy 1940s-clad Tosca enters in the form of the English soprano Naomi Harvey, who is no stranger to the title role. The artist and the diva lumber about the stage amid what is supposed to be a declaration of love. Regrettably, the lack of chemistry between the pair does a disservice to the soaring energy of Puccini’s score. Fortunately, the powerful intensity of Harvey and Wade Lee’s respective vocal acrobatics makes up for their sedate acting abilities.

As the scene comes to an end, we encounter the vocal seasonings of our own Palestrina Boys Choir as they run across the boards in playful merriment – such an enjoyable contrast to their usual formal setting. Their antics are silenced by the entrance of the psychopathic Baron Scarpia (Anooshah Golesorkhi), chief of the secret police, in search of Angelotti. He manipulates Tosca into thinking that Cavaradossi has been unfaithful, and plots to get her in his power.

Act II takes place in Scarpia’s apartment at the Palazzo Farnese. His henchmen, costumed in Nazi-like apparel, torture Cavaradossi, while Tosca pleads for his release. Golesorkhi’s portrayal of the conniving Scarpia is effectively understated, as his calm delivery of the character’s maniacal doings heightens his depravity. He avoids the urge to over-sing, with a depth of tone that is quite remarkable. Undoubtedly, the musical magnetism between Harvey and Golesorkhi is palpable.

Despite the odd pitchy moment, Harvey’s dynamic performance of the famous aria ‘Vissi d’arte’ occasioned a number of “Bravo” exclamations from the handsomely-dressed audience, over rapturous applause. Her energetic murder of Scarpia offers us a glimmer of the impassioned Tosca that we should have seen in Act I.

Act III opens to the dolce tones of our own Max O’Neill (Piccolo Lasso Choir). This young star is heard singing off stage as the church bells herald in the dawn. A tranquil horn passage takes us to Cavaradossi as he is being led to the roof of the Castel Sant’ Angelo to await his execution. Wade Lee’s rendition of the aria ‘E lucevan le stelle’ is flawlessly, stunning. The final duet between Tosca and Cavaradossi, ‘Amaro sol per te’, is well balanced, but Harvey’s attempt to match Wade-Lee’s vocal power in her top register comes at the cost of pitch.

Cavaradossi’s execution scene comes across as being quite comical as Wade Lee grabs his crotch, rather than his chest, following the firing of the pistol. Broken-hearted by his death, Tosca flings herself from the battlements against a tutti forze rendition of ‘E lucevan le stelle’.

Lyric Opera must be congratulated on their production of Puccini’s Tosca. However, the costumes and set design left a lot to be desired. Poorly fitted clothing and inconsistent fashion choices rendered the performance slightly amateur-like in appearance. Even though the staging was quite stark, the company handled the limited space offered by the National Concert Hall well.

A night at the opera is a wonderful way to spend an evening in Dublin, and we should do what we can to support our national talents.