Tosca, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, October 2016

This second revival of Catherine Malfitano’s powerful production, with its massive sets for the first two acts and surreal night sky for the pre-dawn execution of Act III, makes the perfect follow-up to last Friday’s excellent season opening — Richard Jones’s intriguing take on Don Giovanni. This allows the blood and passion of Puccini’s masterpiece to move the heart rather than the intellect, and the three principal singers under the baton of Oleg Caetani did exactly that.

All images ENO/ Richard Hubert Smith

All images ENO/ Richard Hubert Smith

Caetani’s conducting emphasised power and passion, and if it lacked a lightness of touch at times it delivered the drama in a thoroughly compelling manner. With Gwyn Hughes Jones repeating his world class performance of Cavaradossi from the first revival of this Tosca, American singers Keri Alkema and Craig Colclough as Tosca and Scarpia had a tough hill to climb, but managed it in style. Ms Alkema, who will sing the same role in Canada and Germany later this season, gave Tosca terrific emotional drive after a slightly uncertain start, and her Vissi d’arte in Act II was a fitting soliloquy to her sudden determination to kill the coldly calculating Scarpia. In that role Mr. Colclough sang with a threatening iron timbre that, and being short of physical stature he came over as a determinedly nasty piece of work.

Cavaradossi and Tosca in Act I

Cavaradossi and Tosca in Act I

In supporting roles, fine singing from new ENO Harewood artist Andri Björn Róbertsson as the escaped prisoner Angelotti — without whom there would be no opera! — and I loved the voice of Robert Winslade Anderson as the Gaoler, showing that good will still exists in the Castel Sant’Angelo, shortly to be liberated from tyranny.


Tosca's kiss

Tosca’s kiss

In this dark production, where Scarpia’s men in their black top hats frequently appear as threatening silhouettes in the background, it is important that Cavaradossi and Tosca are well lit, though the lighting did not quite get this right in Act I, possibly because of the mis-placing of characters on stage by the revival director who failed to invest Angelotti’s initial appearance with the impact it enjoyed in the previous revival. Yet these quibbles aside the cardinal’s magnificent red cloak at the end of that act was beautifully lit, and the Sacristan’s all too eager wish to assist Scarpia helps emphasise his dislike of the revolutionary forces that Angelotti represents and Cavaradossi supports.


Firing squad

This production helps give clarity to the political background so that the whole drama comes to life, with Gwyn Hughes Jones fully bringing out Cavaradossi’s love of freedom, life and beautiful women. A wonderful staging compellingly performed.

Performances continue on various dates until December 3 — for details click here.

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