Last night I was at an opera with an artist for a hero.
Mario Cavaradossi, the artist in question, is a gifted painter and political radical in early nineteenth century Rome, and is having a passionate love affair with the beautiful opera singer Floria Tosca; nice work if you can get it. Their love is of course destroyed, and their lives wrecked and then ended, by the machinations of the evil chief of police Scarpia. This is one of those operas that end with a lot of corpses, though just for a change not all of them are actually on the stage - Scarpia's body is offstage for the last Act, Angelotti dies offstage during Act 2, and Tosca herself jumps off the roof in the final bars, so she dies out of sight. Cavaradossi, on the other hand, is very dead and very onstage, having been shot by firing squad at the end of Act 3. I love "Tosca", over-ripe melodrama though it is; it has some of Puccini's loveliest music, and a good production (like the current ENO one) is a thoroughly good night out. Just don't expect any subtext.
ENO's Cavaradossi, Julian Gavin, although rather ornamental, isn't that great vocally, and was none too subtle an actor (I was perhaps particularly disappointed due to having heard the breathtaking Jonas Kaufmann singing this part on the radio a few weeks ago). Amanda Echalaz's Tosca was terrific; she looks the part, she sounds wonderful, and she can act. And in the fantastic Anthony Michaels-Moore (perhaps I should call him Potential Second Favourite Baritone) ENO have a Scarpia who is deeply, utterly, creepily vile, and vocally wonderful.
It's a fairly traditional production; no conceptual stuff here, just a good, straight staging with period costumes and some nice directorial touches (Tosca running from the church in Act 1 only to find herself surrounded by adoring fans, and recoiling; Scarpia licking his lips over the glass of wine he savours as he fantasises about raping her), and a staggeringly beautiful set for the last act - a giant stone oeil-de-boeuf opening in the walls of the Castel sant'Angelo, with a radiant night-into-dawn sky beyond. I had a damn good evening; but I am left with the slightly pervy feeling of finding the villian a lot more compelling than the hero!