Tosca tells a gruesome, disturbing tale of sex, power and violence, with a raw brutality wonderfully expressed by Puccini's music, full of psychological details, but also of harsh edges. Christof Loy plays into this brutality without shying away, and presents a reading of the story full of features which render it relevant and understandable in today's world. Instead of the usual hypocritical, middle-aged aristocrat, he had at his disposal, in Tuomas Pursio, a young, handsome Scarpia, which gave him the opportunity of different nuances in the interpretation.

Aušrinė Stundytė (Tosca) and Andrea Caré (Cavaradossi) © Heikki Tuuli
Aušrinė Stundytė (Tosca) and Andrea Caré (Cavaradossi)
© Heikki Tuuli

In Act 1, Tosca was warm to Scarpia, almost affectionate: she leaned on him when crying for Mario's alleged betrayal. She was constantly firm in her refusal of him, but not out of the customary disgust. Her refusal was an enforcement of her agency and a statement to her love, not the rejection of a creepy old man. Scarpia was portrayed as a sadistic psychopath, who rolls on the floor in an orgasm at the Te Deum, when he imagines the death of Cavaradossi and the seduction (rape) of Tosca. Loy presented an unusual treatment of the shepherd boy (the accomplished young singer Iitu Pelo), who showed up in Cavaradossi's jail cell, dressed as Tosca, singing at him, as in a dream.

Christian Schmidt's costumes were a mix and match of different periods, from the 18th-century attire worn by Scarpia and his thugs, to the 19th-century frock worn by Tosca during her show at Palazzo Farnese, to the 1950s clothing on the congregation, and Tosca herself, in church. Cavaradossi was in modern clothing. This gave the feeling of a timeless story: Scarpia walks among us, in every powerful man who blackmails a young desirable woman.

Tuomas Pursio (Scarpia) and Aušrinė Stundytė (Tosca) © Heikki Tuuli
Tuomas Pursio (Scarpia) and Aušrinė Stundytė (Tosca)
© Heikki Tuuli

The Orchestra of the Finnish National Opera, under the baton of Patrick Fournillier, gave an emotional and warm performance, with sweeping, enthralling lines from the strings driving the action forward. The singers, at times, had some trouble cutting through the thick orchestral texture, especially in Act 1, while in Acts 2 and 3 the balance was better, still in the frame of a passionate interpretation. Scarpia's entrance was as loud and as terrifying as it should be.

Aušrinė Stundytė was a passionate Tosca; her voice had an unusual, very metallic colour, with rough edges at times, but her rock-solid technique supported her flawless emission both in the emotional outbursts and in her sweet whispering. High notes were exciting and extremely powerful: her C in the third act (the famous "do della lama") pierced right through our hearts. If anything was missing in her performance, it might have been some Italianate sound, and maybe her legato could have been more compliant to bel canto style. Her acting ability was impressive. She was sweet and sexy in the love duet, desperate in her jealous rage, terrified during the torture scene, crushed and defeated in her yielding to Scarpia, furious in her murderous vengeance. But it was in the third act that her art shone brighter: Loy's idea here was to present Tosca as driven insane by her crime, and Stundytė was wonderful in her deranged demeanour, eyes wandering, hands fidgeting. For once, it was easy to understand why Tosca would believe Scarpia's ridiculous promise of a fake execution: she was not in her right mind.

Alvari Stenbäck and Heikki Aalto (Sacristan) © Heikki Tuuli
Alvari Stenbäck and Heikki Aalto (Sacristan)
© Heikki Tuuli

Mario Cavaradossi, Tosca's beloved, was Andrea Carè, whose generous tenor was perfectly suited to the passionate young lover. His emission was natural and unaffected, but, at the same time, always elegant, never indulging in the excesses of verismo. He had a very natural demeanour on stage and showed great chemistry with Stundytė. His "E lucean le stelle" was arguably the highlight of the evening: he sang with great emotion, pouring his heart out, and the audience responded by stopping the show with well-deserved applause. The scene with Stundytė in the following, where they sing a cappella in unison "Trionfal", saw them embracing passionately, instead of holding hands facing the audience, as it is customary. This gave the music its rightful meaning: two lovers who know all is lost and need to cling to each other for one last moment, dreaming of a life which is not meant to be.

Pursio's powerful voice expressed very appropriately the different psychological aspects of the villainous Scarpia. He was sexy and despicable, desirable and terrifying, a true psychopath. His monologues were delivered with great emotion and confidence, roaming through the second act like a rock star. The torture scene saw the three protagonists at their best, in a storm of emotions. The singers in smaller roles and the chorus were all on point, all of them carefully depicted as living, believable people.

****1