Tosca, Grange Park Opera, Theatre in the Woods, GPO, June 2017

Grange Park Opera’s new theatre is a small miracle. Built in under a year, the acoustics of this mini La Scala with its four tiers of seats in a horseshoe-shaped auditorium, allowed conductor Gianluca Marcianò with the BBC Concert Orchestra to deliver a full-blooded account of Puccini’s masterpiece in the Surrey countryside.

All images GPO/ Robert Workman

Full-bloodied too in Peter Relton’s staging, where Joseph Calleja as Cavaradossi is shot from behind while sitting astride a chair. There was a time when Calleja’s effortlessly powerful and honeyed tones were not matched by his acting, but no more — as the shots rang out his body jerked, slumped forward, and blood oozed from his mouth, arguably the most convincing death scene I have ever seen in Tosca. Cavaradossi was not play-acting, as Tosca hoped. He was dead. An officer with a pistol came to finish him off, but didn’t bother. Fine acting by Calleja in his first Tosca, and his singing was in a class of its own. His Recondita armonie in early Act I may have been a set piece, but his Vittoria in Act II and his main aria in Act III emerged from a well-spring of feeling that fully communicated itself to the audience.

È avanti a lui tremava tutta Roma!

What a fantastic role debut, surrounded by a mostly excellent cast. Judging by criticisms of Ekaterina Metlova’s Tosca on opening night, she must have been suffering from nerves because this performance (June 22) was very good indeed. Young and lacking melodrama, unlike some famous sopranos, her more competent approach seems a perfectly acceptable reading of the role. A desirable actress, hugely attractive to Scarpia, linked to a more flamboyant lover, her Vissi d’arte was beautifully sung, with power, lovely high notes and long lines. Starting in full light centre stage she kneels in half light by the cross and candles, making full use of David Plater’s darkly atmospheric lighting design that suited the World War Two setting. Huge designs by Francis O’Connor afforded a sense of faded grandeur, and in Act III the full moon matched Tosca’s Act I allusion to it with stars appearing for Cavaradossi’s E lucevan le stelle — a nice touch.

Act III, Cavaradossi and Tosca

Some excellent performances in supporting roles, with Jihoon Kim providing fine bass depth to Angelotti, Simon Wilding an unusually serious looking and well sung Sacristan, Adam Tunnicliffe a firm Spoletta, Rosemary Clifford a beautifully sung Shepherd Boy, and Roland Wood as an underpowered Scarpia came over well in solo passages.

With its lovely interlinked gardens, the setting of this new theatre challenges all comers. Watch out Glyndebourne!

Performances continue on various dates until July 2 — for details click here.

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