Twists put icing on a classic
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
Hattie Marshall as Tosca and James Clayton as Scarpia.