Eva Maria Höckmayr’s production of Puccini’s Tosca at the Darmstadt Theatre has many good things in it, but it is the most emotionally detached version of the opera that I have seen. Floria Tosca is an opera singer and in this production (first performed in Darmstadt in 2016 and now being revived) this is the focus of the plot. This Tosca has been playing Tosca and we start at the end with her receiving applause for her last performance. Is she then reliving the events of the drama, or is she caught in an endlessly repeating cycle of events? It's not clear. The interplay between stage and reality (but a reality that is being depicted in the theatre) was often involving but occasionally tiresome. Crucially, however, it moved the focus away from the relationship between the three main characters and onto an intellectual plane with the result that it was curiously uninvolving.

<i>Tosca</i> at the Staatstheater Darmstadt © Stephan Ernst
Tosca at the Staatstheater Darmstadt
© Stephan Ernst

Tosca herself was rarely off the stage, observing Cavaradossi and the other characters in the church in Act 1 even when not participating in the events. Sometimes this device was confusing and it meant that any chemistry between Tosca and Cavaradossi was lacking. Visually, however, the staging was often stunning. The combination of fixed scenery, a revolving stage and projections of photographs plus the use of curtains evoked palaces, churches and theatres in a striking way, mixing the realistic and the non-realistic. The Te Deum scene was spectacular, the stage filled with singers, including the children’s chorus as angels (or were they devils?).

Krzystof Szumanski (Scarpia) and Izabela Matula (Tosca) © Stephan Ernst
Krzystof Szumanski (Scarpia) and Izabela Matula (Tosca)
© Stephan Ernst

Act 2 was a complete contrast, with the stage in darkness except for Scarpia’s table with its candelabra, constantly revolving round the stage; Tosca's incessant movement to keep up with it was tiresome. The third act was less successful. Once again, we were behind the scenes of the set for the production in which our diva was performing. Again Tosca was present from the start and the focus was on her rather than Cavaradossi. We did not see Cavaradossi’s execution, nor Tosca’s suicide, which was indicated by a shocked chorus looking up at a high off-stage point.

Izabela Matula (Tosca) © Stephan Ernst
Izabela Matula (Tosca)
© Stephan Ernst

However it is staged, Tosca remains an opera that depends for its success on the three principal singers and the orchestra. Will Humburg conducted the Staatsorchester Darmstadt with intensity but sometimes a reduction in volume would have benefited all the singers. Krzysztof Szumanski's Scarpia was appropriately menacing and his voice was well nuanced with shades of light and darkness, to a much greater extent than he showed in the only other role in which I have seen him. The production was not kind to Cavaradossi, often taking the audience’s attention away from him, but Mickael Spadaccini sang his famous solos, especially “E lucevan le stelle” with great style and an Italianate timbre. The star of the show was (and in this production had to be) Polish soprano Izabela Matula as Tosca. She has a powerful, dramatic voice and although her enunciation of the Italian was sometimes unclear and her voice could sometimes have been more controlled, she is a singer to look out for in the future. Her “Vissi d’arte” was smooth and moving. I only wished I could have believed more in her feelings.