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

Diego Maradona – Edinburgh Filmhouse

Directed by Asif Kapadia

Edited by Chris King

United Kingdom/ 2019/ 130 minutes

British director Asif Kapadia refers to Diego Maradona as his third part of an unofficial documentary series of child geniuses and prodigies. The formers being the 2010 Senna, looking at the life and death of Brazilian racer Ayrton Senna. The second, Academy award-winning Amy centres itself on the substance abuse of singer-songwriter Amy Whinehouse. The closing film strays from the non-singular name (for a reason) and follows the rise and sin of perhaps football’s greatest player, Diego Maradona.

Selling itself with an archive of previously unseen footage there’s a calling for fans to see Diego Maradona. As a stand-alone piece for non-footy fans, it still retains an appeal. Despite Kapadia’s innate ability to stick within the confines of actual footage, straying away from new interviews, there’s a creation of a narrative. We begin with his early youth, the large family and relationships he grew up with. Moving to his signing with Barcelona to the second record-breaking sign with Napoli. Ending in the fall from grace, bitter and broken – leaving the game for coaching.

In the opening, what first appears to a be a wildly confusing car chase, with a heavy club-base dance beat sits oddly with the image of a footballer, even one known for partying. Quickly we realise that the aesthetical point was the given flavour for an eventual life-style for Maradona. This crass, speed-fueled chase which all started over one football signing which would rocket the man into stardom.

Regular collaborating editor Chris King plays with the duality of Diego’s hedonistic lifestyle but humble childhood. Editing the archive footage, King deliberately plays on this spirit of Diego as the man, Maradona as the God. Focusing on the slower pacing of home-video with Diego’s family and children. Building an establishing image of the mortal, tired, humble and playfully frugal against the contrast of Maradona. The drug and vanity-induced behemoth Napoli would worship as their own. Maradona’s vices would catch up to him as his career tapers to a close in the nineties.

Here we find Diego Maradona‘s letdown, in a twisted manner, due to Maradona still being very much alive, a great deal goes undocumented. Quite rightly, the intention is to showcase Maradona’s prowess and biblical status as a footballer, but his associations with organised crime, drug, doping and women take a tantalising backseat. Even his later admission to fathering a child thirty years ago is a footnote tacked to the epilogue. There’s a whole other documentary sitting just out of reach, and at times we would rather be watching that one. We get a comprehensive overview of Diego Maradona’s career, but a vast account of Maradona’s personal life is untouched.

As with his previous documentaries, natural ability is a focal point. For those of us who have never seen Maradona play, hell those of us who have never seen a footballer play – we grasp the adoration this man deserves. The choices made in the footage, King is able to appeal to an audience, yet focus enough on technique to showcase his talents for new witnesses.

There’s an ability in stripping back an idol, spilling their guts to the ground with the problems they face throughout talented, but problematic careers. Kapadia is usually a masterful documentarian film-maker. In truth, his sensational technique is present with Diego Maradona, but instead of the ending of an unofficial trilogy, this feels like the beginning of another. With de-construction of the man into two separate ‘beings,’ Kapadia is able to look at the mortal and the legend but leaves a little too much of the mystery unanswered.

Review originally published for Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/diego-maradona/

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – King’s Theatre

Based on the Novel by Louis de Bernières

Adapted by Rona Munro

Directed by Melly Still

Something remarkable occurs on stage this evening. Amidst the inconceivable atrocity of war, the explosions and pain, Rona Munro achieves a paradox in a way only she could. To find beauty in war. A statement which feels wrong, but it’s precisely what Captain Corelli’s Mandolin reaches. It has the angst; harrowing anguish of war yet has a deep ornate construction.

Based on the 1994 novel by Louis De Bernières, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a wartime drama set in Italian and German-occupied Greece, on the island of Cephalonia. We open with a young soldier by the name of Carlos, speaking to the titular Captain of a story. His story. Though really, this narrative goes beyond the simplistic and into the strikingly poetic in its language and storytelling. As we explore the island, a young woman, Pelagia finds desire. Only for us to come to realise that where passion ebbs, love may be found in a sworn enemy.

It may be a story of the various ways in which love may manifest; parental, passionate, harmonious or the love of comrade. At its heart though, both narratively and on stage is Pelagia, played by Madison Clare. Melly Still’s direction, in tandem with excellent writing from Munro help, lift a character who could so easily have been a throwaway ‘strong woman’ motif. What these three do, with performer Clare at Pelagia’s core is craft a determined, human character who is fleshed out, fun and engaging.

The points of beauty are found in three aspects of this evening’s production; It’s poetic language, it’s cast but also in Mayou Trikerioti’s set design. An enveloping sheet metal warped and battered like any scrap of war hangs precariously above. Its blank template becomes a visual feast with Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting. Where communication is not verbal, the shifting colours of fire, ocean and blood speak volumes. 

As always, direct comparisons between a five-hundred-page novel and a two-hour production are inherently fruitless. Instead, Munro’s adaption captures the essence of the book in spirit, losing only a little of its flesh. There’s always something wholly investing, yet terrifying about viewing history from the view of another. Our experiences in Britain are no less tormenting, but so different to an island off of Greece where these were ‘bad – circumstances’.

In trimming the gristle, a slice of taste has been lost. For the most part, a sublime balance is achievable in the back and forth interactions of the village folk, a tremendous amount at the hands of Clare and Joseph Long. There are moments, however, where we cross into (dare we say it) romantic comedy territory. It has the late eighties, early nineties vibe where we briefly confuse our characters for Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. In pursuit of comedy, interactions sit oddly beside the intricate choreography and chilling vocals of Eve Polycarpou.

This too means pacing for the second Act stretches slightly, the climaxes of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin are numerous. With each travesty or revelation, they try to outdo the other. It works on occasion, ripping each gasp from the audience with glee, but towards the end, there isn’t much breath left. The sumptuous use of music already taking most of our breathes away.

Alex Mugnaioni’s Captain Corelli is the embodiment of quixotic intention, impossible not to warm to. It makes the slow-burn of the romance between him and Clare all the more believable. Their chemistry is superb, we invest heavily in not only the romance but the growing friendship and initial animosity between the pair. Interactions between the entire cast are emotive, with Long’s Dr Iannis a connection to the audience, regaling us with Grecian myths to draw parallels with social history.

A unique production which finds itself basking in its adoration for music, love and community – strengthening their importance against the harrows of war. As an adaptation, it serves the source material well only succumbing to a couple tropes in the process. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a hauntingly beautiful piece of theatre, moving its audience.  

Tickets available until June 22nd: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/captaincorelli

Production Touring: http://www.captaincorellismandolin.com/

Image rights: Marc Brenner