A ravishing Tosca
First, an admission. This review necessarily reflects its author’s prejudices, and Tosca is not my favourite opera. I find Puccini’s delight in setting sadomasochistic content to lusciously sensual music upsetting at best – and at times, offensive. His propensity to idealise feminine innocence and passivity is equally annoying. My reactions are exacerbated when the action is brought forward from Rome in 1800 to Paris in 1944, during the Nazi occupation; and when Tosca becomes a naive collaborationist, eventually betraying fugitive Jews to their death to save her lover from torture.
Nothing, of course, can excuse Scarpia, the sadistic villain of the piece. But an early nineteenth century Tosca can be more easily forgiven for her naivety and her lack of political acumen. This updated setting makes it rather harder to forgive her. The Kings Head cannot provide the trappings of grandeur and opulence that might well tempt a young woman to accept Nazi protection in a war-torn city; and this production doesn’t offer her the excuse of a fervent religious belief to justify her naivety and the strength of her scruples when she is offered her lover’s life in exchange for sexual submission. Again, a nineteenth century heroine can get away with telling us that she lives entirely for music and love. We expect a little more from a professional woman of the twentieth century.
But for all that, no-one could fail to be ravished by the experience of sitting five feet away from three young musicians and four young performers playing and singing with such strength, beauty and passion. So I was ravished. That’s perhaps an unfortunate word to use in the context of a plot that hinges on the idea of a heroine being blackmailed into having sex with a man she loathes. All the more appropriate, then, as I was swept away despite all my misgivings.
So do go and see it. And if you missed last year’s La Boheme, by the same company, which I can recommend even more whole-heartedly, do go and see that, too: it is due to be revived in the West End at the Trafalgar Studios and will run from 6th December 2017 – 6th January 2018.