Magazine article The Spectator

Old Hat

Magazine article The Spectator

Old Hat

Article excerpt

Opera

Old hat

Tosca

English National Opera

Hansel and Gretel

Welsh National Opera

Tosca is one of the most surprising operas, in that you never know how it will take you. I suppose I see more performances of it than of any other opera, and though it is never exhilarating or exalting it can range from the deadly dull to the utterly repulsive to the genuinely fascinating, depending above all on the production but also very much on the musical side of things. Opera North's production of it in 2002 amounted to a brilliant and penetrating insight into what it may be about, and without anything like as much directorial distortion as many operas receive made it fresh, moving and almost deep. Such a decisive production as that queers the pitch for any other that comes shortly after, so that David McVicar's ENO version from last year seemed, comparatively, old hat from the word go.

The sets, by Michael Vale, are impressive, dark and threatening, Act I dominated by a huge cross hanging over proceedings, and looking as if it might crush the participants in the drama at any moment. The drcadfulness of collaboration between ecclesiastical and political oppression is brought home in a single symbol. McVicar seems to have been in easygoing mode when he directed it, and there are plenty of occasions when the singers look as if they need help. The Tosca of Claire Rutter is buxom and sensual, but beyond that has few specific qualities. The one unusual thing she does is to implant a long, long kiss on Scarpia's lips after killing him, and that is plainly a stupid idea. She has shown no sign of anything but revulsion before, and, though Tosca is briefly, if one quaintly takes note of the text, horrified at what she's done, kissing isn't going to help.

Julian Gavin is a musical tenor, so Cavaradossi's music sounds eloquent, but he too showed no strong signs of identifying with the part. Only Stephen Kechulius of the principals, admittedly with the meatiest material as Scarpia, threw himself into his role, but he didn't encounter enough opposition. The most positive aspect of the performance was the playing of the orchestra under Noel Davies. With conductors of this quality on their staff, why do our major companies so often go hunting for mediocrities in other countries, other continents even? He drew both refined and when necessary barbaric sounds from the orchestra which, the evening before, had sounded so pallid in Rhinegold.

Welsh National Opera came for a week to Sadler's Wells, bringing three of their most successful productions. …

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