Tosca- presented by Cape Town Opera

When: September 12-17, 2023
Where: Artscape Opera House, Cape Town
Tickets:  R180-R520 with booking through Computicket and box office 0214217695
Director: Magdalene Minnaar
Orchestra: Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra- conducted by Björn Bantock
Chorus: Cape Town Opera Chorus will be directed by Marvin Kernelle
Surtitles: English and isiXhosa
Age advisory:  No under 13s

Stunning Tosca– ravishing production – with exceptional performances (voice and theatrical) by Cape Town Opera soloists, Cape Town Opera Chorus (directed by Marvin Kernelle) and children’s choir, (amazing to see the youngsters singing). Bravo to Cape Town Opera and its artistic director Magdalene Minnaar, who is in the director’s seat for this magnificent production.  Bravo to the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra (conducted by Björn Bantock) for an exquisite rendition of the delicious Puccini score. I loved this production. There are only four performances in Cape Town. This run, follows a widely successful run in Johannesburg. Do not miss.

This is my first time seeing Tosca, on stage. I have seen recordings of the opera. I am besotted with the music and in particular the famous aria in Act 2, Vissi d’arte’ (‘I lived for art’). Tosca – the sentinel protagonist – sings this aria in Act 2. She has lived for her art (as a soprano/singer – in the story). She has lived for love, passion; life. Then she loses it all. She is a pawn as evil men, duel in a game of politics and war. They abuse Tosca (emotionally and physically) and manipulate her.  In the stirring Vissi d’arte’ aria, Tosca, contemplates her fate. She feels abandoned, discarded – by God- by everyone. She has lived her life, with good intentions, doing ‘good’ and it leads to this- rape, violence and mayhem.  This aria has been used in many films and plays. Even if you haven’t seen Tosca, you have probably heard this aria. For instance, the Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper film, A Star is Born (2018), featured fragments from the aria. The aria rings out as powerful leitmotif throughout the opera.

Puccini based his opera (sung in Italian – the libretto is in Italian) on a French-language play, La Tosca – set in Rome in 1800 – with Rome under threat from an invasion by Napoleon. It sounds like Russia invading Ukraine and all the other horrible stuff happening in this sad world of ours.  Tosca is a political and psychological thriller and so relatable right now in terms of global politics. However, at the heart of the political intrigue, is the feisty singer, Floria Tosca, with her determination to live her life to the fullest.  

In this production by Cape Town Opera, the narrative is beautifully sketched out on a scrim – with audio visuals – telling us the story and what is happening. The action takes place over a day- an intense day and there is a lot on the go and with the linking captions (video design by Kirsti Cumming), we are able to follow the twists and turns. As an audience, it makes it accessible to have the story out there, delineated for us as we watch. I loved this. The surtitles, compiled by Elisabeth Manduell (she is assistant director) are in plain English and are lyrically written – unlike many surtitles sin opera which are awful. There are also surtitles in isiXhosa.

Soprano Nobulumko Mngxekeza as Floria Tosca, brings a steely grit to this passionate woman, trying so hard to hold it together and to find a happy ending. This is Mngxekeza’s first production with Cape Town Opera, after being appointed as House Soloist in 2022 and it is wonderful to see this talented artist give her all to the role. Tenor Lukhanyo Moyake is captivating as the painter, Mario Cavaradossi. Baritone Conroy Scott is brilliant as the nasty and scary, Baron Scarpia- the police chief.

In addition to the superb voices of the company, the drama is tenderly tempered by director Minnaar. Tosca is an opera of violence, discord and rupture, but within that is the possibility of transcendence through love, art and passion. The gorgeous (beautiful, beautiful) set and costume design (Maritha Visagie and Leopold Senekal) is rich and layered and riffs off Rome and its monuments and ruins and is heightened by Oliver Hauser’s sumptuous lighting design. It feels as if we are immersed in paintings which move as the scenes shift. Movement director, Fiona du Plooy imbues each protagonist with motion and gesture as she choreographs each scene – even the scenes which are relatively static.

One quibble – I found the intervals too long and felt that there could have been a pause rather than a 2nd interval after Act 2. That aside, Cape Town Opera’s 2023 production of Tosca, is a wow – visually and aurally. The narrative keeps one on the edge of the seat – no matter that one knows how it will end. The suspense is palpable. The audience was utterly immersed – gasping, laughing, swooning – in appreciation- all the way through. There were standing ovations, after each act.

On the table: Soprano Nobulumko Mngxekeza as Floria Tosca in Cape Town Opera’s Tosca, 2023. Pic by Danie Coetzee

Young voices: The 28-member children’s chorus, overseen by Antoinette Huyssen, in Cape Town Opera’s Tosca, 2023. Pic by Danie Coetzee

Pics by Danie Coetzee- supplied.