Paul Curran’s production for the Canadian Opera Company of Puccini’s perennial favourite Tosca opened on Friday night at the Four Seasons Centre. The production was previously seen in 2008, 2012 and 2017 and so was familiar to many in an opening night house. Fourth time around it was workmanlike and well sung but lacked the necessary dramatic edge to be truly memorable.

Stefano La Colla (Cavaradossi) and Sinéad Campbell-Wallace (Tosca)
© Michael Cooper

There wasn’t anything much wrong. There were some tweaks to freshen things up. The Te Deum scene, for instance, which Curran treats as a rather over-the-top celebration of all things Catholic, got prostrating nuns that I had not noticed in previous iterations. And one couldn’t fault the ladies and gentlemen of the COC Chorus or the very cute youngsters of the children’s chorus who played it for all it was worth. The sets remain painterly and very easy on the eye. 

In the title role, Sinéad Campbell-Wallace looked the part and had the requisite vulnerability. She also sang beautifully, perhaps too prettily at times. Even the famous lines when she damns Scarpia were sung tunefully rather than snarled. Rather oddly, the jealousy business in the first act produced laughter from the audience which rather summed up the mood. Then there was the (literally) bloodless killing of Scarpia. Was this a glitch? Or was the director trying to get across something I missed but there wasn’t a drop of blood on stage, on Scarpia, on Tosca or even on the knife; itself, curiously, apparently a paper cutter in the form of a crucifix.

Roland Wood (Scarpia) and Sinead Campbell-Wallace (Tosca)
© Michael Cooper

More menace from Roland Wood as Scarpia, who sang and acted well but wasn’t especially threatening, might have upped the shock value. But it was not to be. Brilliant chemistry between Stefano La Colla, as Cavaradossi, and Campbell-Wallace might have improved things but while he had the notes and sang well especially in the third act, there really wasn’t a whole lot of chemistry. Donato di Stefano’s Sacristan has some cute business but it’s the same schtick as the last three times. At least Michael Colvin and Giles Tomkins as Scarpia’s henchmen managed to inject a degree of much needed nastiness. In the end it all felt a bit routine.

Roland Wood (Scarpia)
© Michael Cooper

Giuliano Carella’s conducting didn’t help much. Tempi were on the slow side and a tendency to conflate “loud” with “dramatic” didn’t create any tension and didn’t help the singers. The COC orchestra was it’s usual excellent self though. I expect the big moments in Tosca to raise the hairs on the back of my neck but on Friday there was no frisson and I left the theatre feeling curiously unmoved.

Ultimately Tosca is a rather crude melodrama with some incredibly beautiful and skilfully written music. To really come off the crudeness and brutality has to come over as the essential contrast to the lyricism. This revival is just too darned polite.