Twists put ic­ing on a clas­sic

The West Australian - - ENTERTAINM­ENT -

OPERA Tosca Freeze Frame Opera RE­VIEW DAVID CUSWORTH

Tosca is the opera that keeps on giv­ing — doomed lovers, bru­tal civil and re­li­gious power, gor­geous, haunt­ing tunes — yet Freeze Frame squeezed even more twists from the ever-spi­ralling plot.

A barn in win­ter makes a con­fronting venue, but de­signer Rob­bie Har­rold — also a player as gun­man Roberti — di­rec­tor Rachel McDon­ald and mu­sic mae­stro Tom­maso Pol­lio used sparse re­sources to open av­enues in the imag­i­na­tion which the artists pop­u­lated with pathos and pas­sion.

A few chairs sketch a cathe­dral aisle reach­ing to the heav­ens; drapes a dark dun­geon; and open space in the fi­nale the deso­la­tion of death.

Ra­dio-like me­chan­i­cal sound (think Mus­solini) and cin­e­matic de­vices (Hitler, The God­fa­ther) paint a bleak land­scape, with Pol­lio’s piano ac­com­pa­ni­ment a homage to silent movie melo­drama.

Into this, James Clay­ton’s mafioso-po­lice chief Scarpia brings clar­ity, vigour and a Pu­ti­nesque phys­i­cal­ity that dom­i­nate even af­ter his slay­ing. In voice, ges­ture and sheer pres­ence he projects the ba­nal­ity of evil. #MeToo, church abuse, even The Hand­maid’s Tale, all align with a cen­tury-old story.

Jun Zhang, as the artist Cavara­dossi, and Hat­tie Mar­shall, as the diva Tosca, are by turns in­ti­mate,

con­flicted and com­pelling. Zhang’s voice was di­min­ished by cold at the start, but he grew in tan­dem with Mar­shall, and in the cli­max his weak­ness was strength.

Three mo­ments de­fine the work. Tosca’s death of in­no­cence at Scarpia’s hand, singing the divine aria Vissi d’arte — I have lived for art — wrung ev­ery ounce of piety and pity from Puc­cini’s tran­scen­dent mu­sic. Di­vas gen­er­ally en­joy di­men­sion and dis­tance to dis­pel dis­be­lief, but this was de­liv­ered mere me­tres from an au­di­ence on bleach­ers in cold, damp air; the con­nec­tion di­rect and vis­ceral.

Pia Har­ris, as gen­der-bend­ing hench-woman Spo­letta, and also the one true in­no­cent, Lu­cia, was an ace in sto­ry­telling. Her take on the song of sighs, Io de’sospiri, was a cry for the soul of hu­man­ity.

Zhang com­pleted the triad with E luce­van le stelle, a con­demned man’s re­flec­tion that life and love have never been more poignant. A con­tem­pla­tive, awe-struck tone melted hearts and moist­ened eyes. Like­wise, O dolci mani, his lament at Tosca’s tor­ment, was a per­fect foil to their in­evitable doom.

Robert Hof­mann, as sac­ristan and jailer, book­ended the drama with hu­mour and hubris, ic­ing a dark and bit­ter dessert.

For artistry, econ­omy and emo­tional im­pact, this cries out for an au­di­ence be­yond the leafy west­ern sub­urbs; per­haps in the dusty hin­ter­land where that money is made.

Tosca is at Clare­mont Show­ground, Cen­te­nary Pav­il­ion to­mor­row, Thurs­day and Fri­day at 7.30pm. Tick­ets from try­book­ing.com/ZLEM

Pic­ture: Robert Frith

Hat­tie Mar­shall as Tosca and James Clay­ton as Scarpia.

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