Chisinau National Opera, New Theatre, April 29th 2007

April 29, 2007
Ellen Kent states that of all the many operas she has produced:  "Tosca is a particular favourite of mine - mainly because of the melodrama. The fact that the heroine is an opera singer provides a wonderful opportunity for sensationalism".

Set in Rome in 1800, the plot revolves around the diva Floria Tosca and Mario Cavaradossi, her artist lover, who try to protect their friend Angelotti, a political prisoner, from the evil chief of police, Baron Scarpia. Scarpia, who fancies Tosca, has Mario tortured until Tosca betrays Angelotti, and then further threatens to execute Mario unless Tosca permits him to have his wicked way with her (the ways of Boris Materinco, Scarpia, are splendidly wicked. A full-blooded baritone, his malevolence and lust are supported by a toadlike complacency and a shudder-inducing physical forcefulness). In the end, everyone dies, whether by murder or suicide. This is opera as it should be.

The lead singer does have to be able to carry all this off, of course: and Natalia Margarit certainly can. By turns imperious, playful, vulnerable and passionate, with masses of tawny-gold hair and gorgeous gowns, she does indeed resemble the “supple leopard” to which Scarpia compares her. Her voice is classical, vibrato-heavy but with a delicacy which gives her rendition of classics such as Vissi d’Arte a particular sensitivity. Andriy Perfilov as her lover Cavaradossi provides an interesting foil. In his late 20s, he’s one of the youngest singers of the Ukrainian Opera of Odessa. His voice obviously still needs to mature, but his acting ability is impressive: despite the undertone of strain in his voice, his rendition of E lucevan le stelle (a lament, just before his execution, that he has “never loved life so much”) generated spontaneous applause.

The sets and costumes are dark, opulent and realistic, providing an appropriately luscious backdrop to the blood and thunder. One of the strengths of Ellen Kent’s productions is this dedication to providing really good renditions of opera in traditional style at an affordable price. They’re not necessarily your first port of call for experimental work, but are reliably pleasurable experiences of what this genre, at its best, is all about.
This is notoriously one of Puccini’s greatest operas of passion, torment and betrayal. The setting is a church in the time of Napoleon and the battle of Marengo. Tosca, a diva (Natalia Margarit) is passionately in love with Cavaradossi (Andriy Perfilov), whom she suspects of arranging secret trysts with another and painting her portrait as a Madonna in the church. However, he is really trying to hide a political prisoner, Angelotti (Viorel Zgardan). She later learns of this but then Cavaradossi is arrested by Scarpia (Boris Materinco). He bargains with her- the life of Cavaadossi for her favour, and the revelation of Angelotti’s whereabouts- a secret she has sworn not to betray.

The rest is tragic, as you may have guessed. This powerful drama equally demands characters larger than life and of conviction. Only Scarpia fully delivers. From the moment Scarpia steps on to the stage, his presence dominates the stage. He is in complete control. He is a natural actor and singer. However, although the timbre of his voice is appropriate for the part, he has not quite the power of Pavarotti - the orchestra was too thunderous sometimes to hear him. The lovers’ voices, Natalia Margarit’s and Andriy Perfilov’s, are fine, but not memorable, until their big arias. Their acting is generally contrived, and there seems to be no bond between them, or with the audience. Natalia tends to sing at times with a covered voice that is not always in the centre of the note, and uses an increase in volume rather than a motivated increase in feeling or intensity. But then Natalia’s voice is at its best when she sings the difficult Vissi d’Arte Vissi d’Arte. This is well executed, and admirably on pitch, even on the last scary phrase, where she asks "God, why do you reward me in this way?" Again, Andriv is at his very best when dying. His voice is still young, with much promise, and passion, but he must nurture it carefully. The other minor roles performed adequately. Overall, this is a well-paced production and well worth a view.
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