As I sat down to enjoy the evening performance of Tosca at The Lowry in Salford, the couple in front of me were also getting comfortable. He was a tall young man with shoulder-length hair and she had a wonderful head of shocking blue, matched by lips of bright red. They were very much in love. But there was a problem. As she nestled into his hirsute nape, it completely obscured my view of the stage. I coughed politely and informed them that while I had no wish to impede youth’s sweet love, I did want to see the opera. They kindly spent the evening at a chaste distance. Opera interruptus.

Which, of course, is the subject of Tosca, a love interrupted. Tosca (Giselle Allen) is a flame-haired singer with a temper to match and the lover of Mario Cavaradossi (Mykhailo Malafii), a painter. He becomes embroiled in hiding an escaped political prisoner, Angelotti (Callum Thorpe), from the evil chief of police Baron Scarpia (Robert Hayward). Cavaradossi is arrested and tortured by Scarpia who promises to free him for a night of passion with Tosca. In Scarpia’s bedchamber, Tosca’s disgust and temper get the better of her as she slits his throat over a glass of Spanish white. Murder interruptus.

Tosca, Opera North. Credit:

Tosca. Credit: Opera North.

To ensure his freedom, Cavaradossi must undergo a mock execution. As if from beyond the grave, Scarpia has ordered his henchmen to kill the painter anyway. Tosca’s grief over the death of her lover when they are so close to a life together is so overwhelming that she throws herself from the roof of the chapel. Suicide interruptus.

This is a wonderful revival of Opera North’s 2018 production, reviewed [*checks notes*] in these very pages. Then it was Giselle Allen who sang the lead role with the late Rafael Rojas as Cavaradossi. This was a fitting tribute to Rojas who died last year, and I can affirm that his performance remains one of the true highlights of my time as an opera critic. Meanwhile, Mykhailo Malafii fills the role with great aplomb. His prison duet with Allen was as breathtaking as it was heartbreaking. The scene was made all the more poignant as Malafii is Ukrainian.

The whole evening had the feel of Godfather III about it. The murderous intrigue and religious intonations left me wondering if Michael Corleone was in the wings pulling the strings. In particular, at the end of act one, Scarpia is blessed with a Te Deum (a short religious service of thanks). It is a stunning scene where lighting, stage design, music and the minimal use of the chorus forms a evangelical laying on of hands in praise of the evil police chief.

Tosca is a musically complex opera without Puccini’s usual crowd-pleasing arias and romantic themes. It is a dark and tragic narrative where all the main characters die. A metaphor for our times?

Tosca, Opera North. Credit:

Tosca. Credit: Opera North.

The orchestra was on form, marshalled with insight and authority by Garry Walker from the podium and directed with great aplomb by Edward Dick. Opera North goes from strength to strength and we are lucky to have them. I clapped long and hard as the company took their bows. Bravi tutti. Curtain interruptus.

By Robert Hamilton

Main image courtesy of Opera North

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