Passionate: Charne Rochford and Cheryl Enever as painter Mario Cavaradossi and his lover Floria Tosca in the ­emotionally charged opera Tosca. *Photo supplied
Passionate: Charne Rochford and Cheryl Enever as painter Mario Cavaradossi and his lover Floria Tosca in the ­emotionally charged opera Tosca. *Photo supplied
Opera A La Carte made a welcome return to the Bermuda Festival stage this week with its performance of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca and achieves admirable success in mounting such a monumental work on a chamber scale.

There is no large orchestra or massed chorus here, but piano, organ and percussion together with a small group of singers of considerable talent producing a richly textured sound of impressive weight and dramatic import.

A political thriller and a melodramatic piece, this opera, which premiered in 1900, looks forward to the evolution of cinema in its combination of realism and searching psychology.

Director Nicholas Heath has set this production in the late 1940s with an edgy film noir slant. Its twisting plot line contains among its many gripping elements blackmail, attempted rape, murder, execution, torture and suicide.  This was not an evening’s entertainment for the faint hearted.

With the aroma of incense and shafts of light penetrating an apparent stained glass window the City Hall Theatre audience was transported to the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle in Rome as the curtain rose on Act 1.

Charne Rochford cut quite the ardent hero as painter and protagonist Mario Cavaradossi. His first aria, Recondita armonia and his sensuous duet with his adored diva, the singer Tosca, were melting and captivating as he expressed naked emotion and longing.

Playing the fiery, feisty singer Floria Tosca so central to the opera in more than name alone was soprano Cheryl Enever whose vocal and emotional range was remarkable. Pouring forth passion she heartily scaled from lusty flirtation to jealousy and deep suspicion in this act alone.

Paul Keohone gave a stellar performance as Chief of Police, Scarpia. Menacing and dark he was nothing short of devilish as he sowed doubt in Tosca’s mind so that she would begin to suspect her lover Cavaradossi of infidelity and was horribly oily in his dealings with her. It made for compelling viewing as did Heath’s direction as the anti-hero plotted Cavaradossi’s execution and Tosca’s defilement with his arms outstretched in the light of a church window and the choir in full song appearing as Jesus on the cross when in fact he behaved as the devil incarnate.

The setting for Act II, Scarpia’s headquarters in the Palazzo Farnese was given a foreboding flavour with its red backdrop and emblematic eagle standard hinting at Mussolini’s fascist Italy. Cavaradossi’s cries of pain under torture contrasted in the raw with ecclesiastical singing from the choir off stage.  From here the dramatic screws were tightened and the dramatic intensity was unrelenting. The film noir perspective in this production underpins graphically the drama in the score.

One of Puccini’s most exciting works, it includes celebrated arias of exquisite lyricism and perhaps none more so than Tosca’s fervent prayer Vissi d’arte which Ms Enever performed with ardent eloquence.

This contrasted powerfully with the unfeeling Scarpia who director Mr. Heath has eating, drinking and smoking his way through the inquisition, torture and attempted rape he commits.

In the final act which is staged in a prison cell rather than on the ramparts of the Castel Saint’Angelo, a more manageable scenario within the confines of City Hall, it is Cavaradossi’s aria E lucevan le stele which captures the heart, and Mr. Rochford’s account is a yearning and haunting one.

Well captured also was the devotion between the lovers with Mr Rochford’s and Ms Enever’s performance most convincing.

A vociferous reception and ringing applause greeted the company as the curtain fell. This was a performance that will be long remembered by all present.