It was the least decorative staging of Tosca one can imagine. This remarkable new production of Giacomo Puccini's masterpiece at the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples might appear unpleasant to purists, and disconcerting, even to those who have become more accustomed to unconventional productions.

Tosca, Act 1
© Mario Wurzburger | Teatro di San Carlo

So, forget the splendid Baroque church of Sant’Andrea della Valle; stop thinking about the lavish, frescoed ceilings of the Palazzo Farnese; dismiss from your mind the lofty, daunting ramparts of Castel Sant’Angelo. The action started in what we can barely define as a church, with a cross-shaped altar made out of rubble. The Te Deum at the end of Act 1 – a hymn of jubilation to thank God for the news (later revealed as "fake news") that Napoleon had been defeated – was sung by a procession of penitents and derelicts. In Act 2, Scarpia’s place was full of clutter, practically a junkyard; finally, in Act 3, the giant angel statue, normally a familiar, imposing presence on the top of the castle, was lying down, half broken.

Director Edoardo De Angelis, a filmmaker undergoing his debut in the opera, set the scene in the locations where he typically shoots his movies: a land of nowhere, devastated, dystopian suburbs which mirror and emphasise the tale's social degradation and immoral elements so that, by contrast, Tosca’s naïve feelings and purity of soul could stand limpidly out. De Angelis’ dramatisation ultimately works, with the aid of the sets designed by the celebrated artist Mimmo Paladino.

Immersed in this grimy ambiance, Scarpia’s subtle machinations and arrogant coercions make him resemble more of a local mafia boss than the Chief of Police; he holds power with the aid of his henchmen Spoletta and Sciarrone, who eventually – replacing the usual firing squad – execute Cavaradossi in the manner of a mob hit.

Carmen Giannattasio (Tosca) and Amartuvshin Enkhbat (Scarpia)
© Mario Wurzburger | Teatro di San Carlo

However sumptuous or shabby a staging may be though, Tosca is vital for opera houses worldwide; this is a work which offers great opportunities to talented artists (and ensures a full house for the whole run). Puccini filled it with stunningly dramatic music and the strongest passions: so the opera’s success or failure rests on its three principal singers. In this respect, the San Carlo’s was quite an impressive performance.

The main characters were performed by Carmen Giannattasio in the role of Tosca, Fabio Sartori as Mario Cavaradossi, and Amartuvshin Enkhbat as Scarpia. Giannattasio sang the title role with astounding dramatic skills and a captivating voice. She was compassionate and full of vitality, able as she was not only to love ardently but also to kill and die, out of love and self-respect. She exploited all the music’s pathos, jealousy, terror and desperation with an amazing richness of colour, a warm timbre and fine sensitivity for the drama.

Carmen Giannattasio (Tosca) and Fabio Sartori (Cavaradossi)
© Mario Wurzburger | Teatro di San Carlo

As Cavaradossi, Sartori sounded at ease in his romanza “Recondita armonia” and in the final act with his farewell aria “E lucevan le stelle”, both of which he sang with nobility and passion. Amartuvshin was a perfect Scarpia, the villain of the story. His was an amazing vocal performance, a baritone as dark as it must be, but also flexible and strong in the high range, thus overcoming with ease the orchestra and choir.

Renzo Ran was fine as the revolutionary fugitive, Angelotti. Matteo Peirone, was an excellent, lively sacristan, displaying a gorgeous voice and a cheeky interpretation. Francesco Pittari was very good as Spoletta, Scarpia’s right-hand man, as was Donato Di Gioia in the role of Sciarrone. The shepherd boy of the third act were actually two little angels, each singing a line.

The chorus also was good, and the orchestra sounded satisfactory under the baton of Donato Renzetti, whose reading of the score didn’t contain any surprises.