Wednesday, July 04, 2007

BP Summer Big Screens: Tosca

Royal Opera House
as seen in Victoria Park, London

As the great British summer lives up to its historic billing as a damp squib, the idea of sitting in a park to enjoy a live screening of opera becomes more and more perverse. After Glastonbury's muddy excesses, its urban, posh cousin did its best to follow suit. The tents and wellies should have given a clue as I approached with my three companions, picnic supplies in hand.

And sure enough, as the huge red curtain on screen rose, the heavens opened for a light sprinkle which abated after about 15 minutes, about the time Mario Cavara- dossi (Salvatore Licitra) was opining the joys of his jealous lover, opera singer Floria Tosca (Violeta Urmana) and some time before villainous Baron Scarpia (Mark Delavan) made his suitably Vaderesque entrance.

Given the unpromising surroundings the performance was enjoyable and gripping enough for one to shake off the fear of imminent hypothermia. Plus, there were the added attractions of Hackney at its finest. Children milling about, yuppies on mobile phones and the amusing array of waterproofing: umbrellas, tarpaulin, the odd tent and the plethora of rain ponchos supplied by the corporate sponsor.

Up on screen Scarpia was explaining his life's philosophy of violent conquest, eschewing the "astrology of flowers" (was that a correct translation?), while in murky Victoria Park we were all looking forward to cracking open the hampers for the interval food and drinks. Presenter Deborah Bull and her guests discussed the opera's enduring appeal and concurred that love, betrayal and jealousy were as potent as ever. Certainly, the frolicking children were stopped in their tracks at the more dramatic moments while the adults took sips of wine and pondered how Cavaradossi's gaoler was allowed to smoke on-stage. Is Westminster Council aware of this flagrant violation of the law?

Despite a similarity to Dawn French which gave an inappropriate expectation of comedy breaking out on stage, Urmana was a commanding Tosca, if a bit hindered by the ridiculously long train of her dress. Licitra was a bit lacking in the charisma stakes. But Delavan excelled in this area, verbally jousting with Tosca and turning from torturer to seducer in the flash of an eye.

As the curtain fell at 10:30 and we stretched our frozen limbs, opera in the park seemed once again like a jolly good idea. See you next year down the front.

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