Tosca – The Festival Theatre

Opera created by Giacomo Puccini to a libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa

Revival Direction by Jonathan Cocker

Leader of The Orchestra of Scottish Opera – Anthony Moffat

Conducted by Stuart Stratford

Puccini’s melodramatic masterpiece Tosca has it all; corruption, lust, heartbreak and the bureaucracy of history. Shifting the timeframe into the 20th century, there is still a stringent root to Puccini’s origins in 1900. Practically flawless in execution, Tosca moves beyond a visual wonder with Stuart Stratford’s musical conduction and direction. Under the growing shadow of Benito Mussolini, Floria Tosca attempts to liberate her beloved from the clutches of fascist oppression, but as their grip tightens so too does the risk of the lives involved.

A leitmotif in composition, Puccini allows singers leeway in a way few other composers achieve which gives Tosca an edge of humour other Operas cannot obtain without embracing the genre of comedy to the full extent. It accentuates the melodramatic blood which thrusts our leads forward, embracing the grandeur of the production, while still connecting with an audience. The libretto has narrative focus, but this revival at the hands of Scottish Opera and Jonathon Cocker impacts immediately, not with its song, but with visuals.

Decadent, there’s astonishing detail in Peter Rice’s design that offers a framework of renaissance sculpture. Rarely, perhaps never, has a production been so befitting of the Festival Theatre’s stage. A trio of spectacles, which depths are plumbed to offer scale, serve a unique purpose, and is in stark contrast to Scottish Opera’s previous settings for likes of Rigoletto. Here there is no room for minimalism or symbolic structure, no, this is craftsmanship at it’s most architectural. Hallowed stones of alabaster-marble, to a looming figure atop the fortress and imposing fireplaces, Tosca has the skeleton to hold spectacle, now hopefully it packs the lungs to carry this off.

Let’s be frank. We both know the operatic skills of this evenings performers go without question. Nae, it would be insulting to suggest there are issues with vocals, as there are none. These are trained professionals in the height of their ability, not merely in scale but control, emotive connection and tonal changes. These are storytellers as much as they are singers. Even those outwith the three leads of Tosca, Cavaradossi or Scarpia provide spine-shivering evidence that despite having over a century under the belt, so long as Scottish Opera can unearth and maintain exceptional talents such as Aled Hall, Paul Carey Jones or Steven Faughey, then Tosca will survive and ignite audiences again, and again.

Puccini’s adoration for women almost exceeds that of music, evident in Tosca herself. Fiercely resilient, profound in her determination, Tosca, as one may imagine, is central to the motivations of men throughout the production. Far from a temptress or stereotype, Tosca captures the moral depravity men will slither to in pursuit of selfish ideals, yet also the redemptive capacities humanity is capable of. Natalya Romaniw’s masterful voice ebbs away at the audience, for a brief moment, we are numb to the world around us as she recites her solo aria Vissi d’arte over her love for Cavaradossi.

“Ecco un artista!” and what an actor indeed, Gwyn Hugh Jones’ role as the painter, lover and revolutionary concealer Cavaradossi goes beyond mere vocal performance. Scottish Opera has an embedded appreciation of the medium, beyond its impression of solitary arias, breathing life into their productions. While his swansong moments in Act 3 etch into the minds of the audience, it is Hugh Jones’ oratorio moments within the house of God which stands out amidst borderline cinematic scenery. It also places him in stark contrast to the antagonistic Scarpia, the sycophantic leather-clad worshipper of one Benito Mussolini.

Eagerly revelling in our jeers and boos, Hall and Roland Wood match their vile villainy not only in presence but their mastery of vocals equally. A thick, pulsing vein of corruption runs at the heart of Puccini’s opera, a political bureaucracy at the core of Europe. Sly, vindictive and repugnant in approach, Wood’s Scarpia is a monstrous reminder of Italian fascism. Yet, even beauty turns its face towards evil, as Wood’s baritone’s tremble the marble adorning his office, the flames themselves shuddering at his presence, as his rising malice is snuffed out by Tosca’s kiss, the night hushes into new daybreak.

Dawn breaks, as does a brief respite from the dramatic tension of the previous act’s climax. Here especially, soak in Cocker’s respect for the orchestra, as the aria holds itself in reverence of the musicians. As the soldiers await their duty, the atmosphere lingers with glints of cigarillo sparks. Lead by Anthony Moffat, the composition of the piece is exquisite in richness, perfectly pacing itself to a building crescendo to reflect the upcoming finale. Particularly for the string portion’s, the orchestra stands toe-toe with those of the vocals, concocting a symphony of artistry, which ties together each element of Scottish Opera’s Tosca, finishing up a comprehensive production.

Perhaps a reflective comment but there’s a concern that Tosca may not be 100% accessible for non-devotees. This is, without question, meticulously crafted with undeniable talent, there’s an air of reverence for the production that those unfamiliar with Tosca will perhaps not comprehend. Still, Scottish Opera’s Tosca is a definitive incarnation, standing the test of a centuries history, art and revivals. It is a testament to the companies merit, talent and ability and a precise way to close their 2019 season alongside Iris‘ one-off performance at City Halls, Glasgow.  

Scottish Opera’s Tosca runs until Saturday 23rd of November. Tickets available from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/tosca

Photo Credit – James Glossop

Acosta Danza Evolution ft. Carlos Acosta – Festival Theatre

Principle Artistic Direction by Carlos Acosta

Dance doesn’t solely comprise movement, while the central aspect in a medium without voice, the ability to communicate with an audience through rhythm, music, construct and the beauty of abstract storytelling is paramount. Acosta Danza Evolution is the future of the industry, illustrating their imaginative capabilities with four pieces which, while sharing mirthful talent and passion, couldn’t be more different from one another.

Playing to their narrative strengths, Acosta retells less-recognisable stories. With the playwrighting and choreography of Adrian Silver, Sidi Larbi Cheraoui or Steven Brett, it places audiences on an even keel. Those familiar with dance may have advantages understanding technique, but there is such fresh material from the company that a sense of wonder pervades over veterans just as much as those new to the art form. Dance companies take chances to survive, or risk fading into pleasant, though archaic formats. Acosta Danza Evolution takes conceptual versatility and launches it into the air – rarely, has such amalgam of unique concepts found themselves on the same stage. From the magenta ribbons of zen-like trances, into deep haunting woodlands’ interpretations, and then to the tie-baring rockers of the Rolling Stones’ Lady Jane or Sympathy for the Devil.

Light and shade are mere toys for the artistry on show, bending the resolute which defy traditional movement, particularly for this evening’s triumphs – Satori and Faun. Never has human touch felt so valuable, given a place at the peak of the sensory exhibition as performers meld into one another’s rhythm. Two dancers, one flow, it’s staggering the synchronicity they accomplish – not only with each other but with the score. A composition which echoes the backdrop for Faun, an uncomfortable mixture of unease, yet natural wonder. A woodland setting, with a blanketing fog concealing something hidden in the distance.

Concise in colour, hypnotic in construct, designers Angelo Alberto, Karen Young, Hussein Chalayan and Marian Bruce highlight dancers with precision, straying from flash or morbid displays of tactless shades. Where utilising colour, such as the crimson trim of a dress, an injection of flavour, it’s acutely painful to consider how much thought is in the ideas process of design choices, which work subtle splendours and draw attention. Nowhere is this clearer than a simple magenta skirt, which echoes the Cuban tones of a Zapateo or Salsa. It is in the same performance, where Zeleydi Crespo’s attitude, form and costume conjures an early-Grace Jones stance of female authority. Her movements proud, strong with a paradoxical delicacy in footing.

Fiercely proud, Acosta Danza fuses their Cuban steps with pigeon-foots of Swedish, Eastern Germany, Russia and predominately European dance movement, with an obvious dash of ballet for good measure. With roots in African and Cuban dance, there’s an intensity to all four of these evenings performances, but they couldn’t be further apart in emotional context or choreography. The gravity-Morpheuslike defiance of Satori is in polar opposition to the grounded, rocker ballad battle of the sexes that is the celebration of modern music RoosterSatori’s study of stagnation, momentum through choreography are only complimented with the original score from Pepe Gavilondo’s combination of mesmerising folk, strikes against the electronic acoustics.

In 2020, Carlos Acosta will succeed David Bintley as artistic director of the Birmingham Royal ballet, gracing this evenings production with a performance. Acosta and fellow dancers stitch a needle-like precision of ballet steps, tempering them with club movements, balancing a comedic narrative throughout Rooster, demonstrating how lucky the company will be in the coming years.

Acosta Danza Evolution showcases its namesake profoundly: evolution. Paying tribute to the origins of movement, the bedrock of and African and European dance, unearthing them, throwing them to the winds to watch which will flutter into renewed life. If you have had the pleasure of seeing dance in a form such as this, it is enviable – for Acosta Danza stand apart from various troupes as innovative, bold, and yet offer a profoundly humorous approach to the art which feels akin to family. It may seek to convey mysticism, zen and even abject fear, but couldn’t be further from a welcoming atmosphere. It cannot be stated enough; whether a veteran twinkle-toes or cursed with two left feet, Evolution will enthral you.

Acosta Danza Evolution runs until November 2nd at Festival Theatre Edinburgh, and then continues on tour: http://www.acostadanza.com/en/

Photo Credit – Enrique Smith Soto, Yuris Norido and Panchito Gonzles