Review: Opera North in Tosca, Leeds Grand Theatre, September 22

EDWARD Dick’s production of Tosca, the first new one in Leeds since Christopher Alden’s 2002 shocker, attempts to make it a parable for our times.

Still with us, oddly enough, from its revival in 2008 are both Robert Hayward’s Scarpia and Rafael Rojas’s Cavaradossi. Giselle Allen’s Tosca is new, but all three principals are familiar to this audience.

Set designer Tom Scutt’s cupola makes a unifying feature. In Act 1, it is the traditional religious dome, with Angelotti shinning down a rope through its central orifice and Cavaradossi retouching one of its panels. In Scarpia’s study-bedroom, the restored Madonna in a tilted cupola casts an eye on Scarpia’s lecheries. In Act 3 the cupola, on its side, offers a lofty window into the otherwise black battlements – and a handy exit for Tosca.

Dick gently updates us with mobile phones and a lap-top on which Tosca is forced to watch her lover under the cosh. His location is fluid: the firing squad in black balaclavas might equally be ISIS or IRA.

The Dutch conductor Antony Hermus, making his Leeds debut, bursts on to the scene here, interrupting audience burbling with the opening chords. He sustains the shock-value. When needed, he knows he has the fire-power to drive the orchestra hard and get away with it.

Allen’s ever-jealous Tosca reveals the insecurities beneath her diva sheen, but her soprano is secure, lively above the stave while also heartfelt in Vissi d’arte, begun from a prone position. Rojas is as reliable as ever, powering his way through almost anything. One might wish him to float rather than force more of his top notes as effectively as he does in E lucevan le stelle.

Hayward lacks that extra ounce of menace in his Scarpia, but compensates with a picture of oily, opportunistic lust, his baritone at its most forthright. Rupert Charlesworth’s reptilian Spoletta adds to the chill. The chorus is on excellent form, doubtless fired by the pungent incense and adding to an evening that could hardly be more passionate.

Further Leeds performances on September 28 and October 3, 5, 11 and 13, then touring until November 16.