Death haunts Catherine Malfitano’s production of Puccini’s tragic opera from the show’s dramatic opening, when the escaped prisoner Angelotti enters before a towering fresco of the crucifixion. Looming in the background throughout Act 1, it prophecies a story which will not end happily.
The fugitive Angelotti, in accepting help from the painter Cavaradossi, places his accomplice in mortal peril, as Chief of Police Scarpia seizes his opportunity to augment capturing the prisoner with stealing Cavaradossi’s lover, the beautiful singer Tosca.
So much of Puccini’s opera revolves around power, be it political or sexual. Amanda Echalaz’s diva-ish Tosca longs to be the most powerful force in Cavaradossi’s life, reeling with petty jealousy when he dares to paint another woman; while Anthony Michaels-Moore’s strutting, shadowy Scarpia revels in exerting power over everyone. His henchmen, long-limbed in top hats and overcoats, could very well have escaped from a Tim Burton film.
Though Frank Philipp Schlössmann’s set evokes dark grandeur with its towering columns, it never overpowers or dwarfs the characters. The central trio of Echalaz, Michaels-Moore and Julian Gavin’s strikingly powerful and passionate Cavaradossi pluck at the audience’s emotions like the orchestra’s string section. During Act II in particular, as Tosca pleads with Scarpia to end her lover’s torture, Echalaz, Michaels-Moore and the orchestra, under the baton of Musical Director Edward Gardner, combine in a powerful, terrible union, both beautiful and horrifying.
As the piece builds towards its climatic end, Schlössmann’s imposing interiors are replaced with what resembles an epic skateboard half-pipe projecting out into the vast expanses of space. It is fitting. The rest of the world has faded away as nothing now matters except the lovers and their inescapable fate.