Review: Opera North, Tosca, Leeds Grand Theatre, Saturday, January 21st January 2023

Puccini’s lurid opera noir contains just one spoken word: tempestuous diva Floria Tosca asks Baron Scarpia, Rome’s venal chief of police; “Quànto?” What is his price for showing mercy to her lover, the painter Mario Cavaradossi. Scarpia’s oily response that a beautiful woman does not usually pay in cash for such favours, leaves Tosca in no doubt what is required to secure Mario’s release.

Edward Dick’s 2018 modernist production, in which Scarpia and his sinister black-suited agents work with laptops and webcams, continues to fire on all cylinders. The turbo-charged pace of action, a convincing cast and a scorching account of Puccini’s turbulent orchestral score rekindles the frisson of excitement experienced five years ago.

Soprano Giselle Allen as Tosca and baritone Robert Hayward as Scarpia both reprise their high voltage portayals. Ukrainian lyric tenor Mykhailo Malafii makes his Opera North debut as Mario Cavaradossi. His is a dark, lustrous and expressive voice capable of immense power. Malafii’s yearning Recondita armonia (hidden harmonies) and his E lucevan le stelle (and the stars were shining) sent shivers down my spine. By this time, scenery designer Tom Scutt’s enormous gilded dome had changed into a dome of twinkling stars. Minutes later it would form the backdrop for Cavaradossi’s execution by firing squad and finally, Tosca’s notorious leap to her death.

Comprimario roles are as usual cast from strength: Callum Thorpe’s enormously rich and focused bass as the escaped political prisoner, Angelotti, will be heard to even greater advantage as the Poacher/Forester in Janáček’s the Cunning Little Vixen. Matthew Stiff returns as the Sacristan to lighten the mood for a few precious moment and Bella Blood’s rendition of the Shepherd Boy’s plangent Song eerily sets the scene for the tragic denouement.

The Opera North Chorus and Chorus of Children add visceral power and spectacle to the Act 1 Te Deum while the Orchestra of Opera North, conducted by Garry Walker, reveals every tension laden nuance and the roof raising percussive splendour of Puccini’s orchestral canvas.

Tosca runs in repertoire with Janáček’s the Cunning Little Vixen and Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, at Leeds Grand Theatre until Saturday 4th March.