Madau-Diaz’s Tosca returns to the New National Theatre Tokyo

The NNTT commemorated the centenary of Giacomo Puccini’s death with Antonello Madau-Diaz’s very popular production of Tosca under the baton of the renowned Maurizio Benini. Now enjoying its eighth revival, this historically accurate production has impressed with its elaborate and spectacular stagecraft since its premiere in 2000. On the opening day (July 6) this year, the theatre was packed with an expectant audience despite the severe heat and humidity.

The Lebanese/Canadian soprano Joyce El-Khoury (house debut) elegantly embodied the title role. Clad in Pier Luciano Cavallotti’s sophisticated dresses, El-Khoury’s Tosca was visually arresting, her artistic temperament, fidelity, uncontrollable passion and total despair seamlessly exhibited as the drama proceeded. Her singing was generally excellent, but her emotive “Vissi d’arte” aside, a little more power and sonority throughout would have been desirable to match the vigour of her painter lover and the glorious orchestra.

Teodor Ilincǎi’s Cavaradossi was utterly convincing. This Romanian tenor, having debuted here to great acclaim in 2019 as Prince Calaf in Turandot, was very impressive with the warmth and strength of his beautifully controlled voice. His showpiece arias “Recondita armonia” in Act 1 and “E lucevan stelle” in Act 3 were sung effortlessly and resounded through the auditorium. His brief victory celebration in Act 2 was equally splendid, heightening the dramatic tension admirably.

The Georgian Nikoloz Lagvilava cast as Scarpia had to be replaced by the Japanese Takashi Aoyama at the eleventh hour, a substitution announced just three days prior to the opening day. Making the most of this opportunity, Aoyama, a graduate of the NNT Opera Studio, gave an assured and surprisingly brilliant portrayal of the iconic villain. His beautifully upholstered baritone rang out well against the strong-voiced Cavaradossi and, indeed, against the full-volume orchestra (with organ and cannon!) and mighty chorus in the magnificent “Te Deum” in Act 1. Though his Scarpia seemed a bit too benign and courteous in Act 2, not exactly betraying his lust, his portrayal of the criminal abuse of authority was most compelling.

Amongst the minor characters, Hidekazu Tsumaya’s Angelotti was suitably hapless and Fumihiko Shimura’s Sacristan was pleasantly comical in the opening scenes. Shuhei Itoga’s Spoletta and Hiroaki Otsuka’s Sciarrone, in turn, were deliciously sinister. Credit should also go to the NNT Chorus and Tokyo FM Boys Choir, both providing superb singing. The former’s cantata sung off stage in Act 2 was particularly impressive.

Last, but by no means least, the unquestionably standout performance in this production was Benini and the accomplished Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. From the tragic opening chords (marked triple forte) to the cello quartet of an almost other-worldly beauty in Act 3, their enactment of Puccini’s ravishing score was electrifying. The audience was left enthralled by the colourful wave of sounds from the pit which preserved a remarkable balance with the voices on stage. As the culmination of the NNTT’s 2023/2024 opera season, this Tosca offered a deeply rewarding chance to experience again Puccini’s breathtaking world of love, jealousy, torture, killing in self-defence, execution, and suicide.

Natsuko Hirakura

Composed by Giacomo Puccini
Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa

Tosca – Joyce El-Khoury, Cavaradossi – Teodor Ilincǎi, Scarpia – Takashi Aoyama, Angelotti – Hidekazu Tsumaya, Spoletta – Shuhei Itoga, Sciarrone – Hiroaki Otsuka, Il Sagrestano – Fumihiko Shimura, Carceriere – Shinichiro Ryu, Un Pastore – Yoriko Maekawa

Conductor – Maurizio Benini, Production – Antonello Madau-Diaz, Set Design – Naoji Kawaguchi, Costume Design – Pier Luciano Cavallotti, Lighting Design – Yasuo Okuhata, Revival Director – Michiko Taguchi, Stage Director – Takahiro Sugawara

New National Theatre Chorus, Tokyo FM Boys Choir, Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra

New National Theatre Tokyo, Saturday the 6th July 2024

All photographs © Rikimaru Hotta