Tosca, English Touring Opera, ETO, Hackney Empire, March 2017

Opening night was a complete sell-out, justifiably so. Not only is this one of the great operas, but in Paula Sides the ETO produced a superb heroine, clothing her in a glorious green silk dress that would not shame a Vermeer painting.

All images ETO/ Richard Hubert Smith

The simple sets include all the essentials, and the separate desk and small dining table at different levels in Scarpia’s Act II office lend themselves to useful stage movement, providing a means for Tosca to pick a sharp knife from the table and bring it surreptitiously to the desk. Her beautifully plaintive Vissi d’arte before committing revenge made a fitting prelude to her glorious satisfaction at the result. The Madonna, clearly visible as a statue on stage in Act I, would forgive her.

Tosca and Scarpia

Excellent stage movement and placement of singers helped the dramatic power of each scene, starting in Act I with the entrance of the escaped prisoner Angelotti (Timothy Connor), and the underlying clash between the simple piety of the Sacristan (Matthew Stiff) and the cheerfully aristocratic impiety of Alexander James Edwards’ lyrically sung Cavaradossi. He delivered a fine Recondita armonia, and Paula Sides produced just the right note of jealousy, coquettishness and indeed piety as they interact and she kneels before the statue of the Virgin and Child. The entrance of Craig Smith’s well-sung Scarpia was given powerful effect by Aled Hall’s superbly threatening Spoletta, whose stage and vocal presence throughout invested the authority of the Roman state with elemental force, and the chorus produced a magnificent Te deum, at the end of that act. Michael Rosewell in the orchestra pit worked wonders with the resources at his disposal, producing ominous power with those beautifully subdued drumbeats at the start of Act III.

Tosca’s kiss

In Blanche McIntyre’s production the different levels in Act II allow the wounded Cavaradossi to stand as a commanding figure for his Vittoria after emerging at stage rear, and in Act III his E lucevan le stelle was delivered as a cry of despair. When the firing squad enters its commander carries a dagger to finish off the condemned man, but Spoletta stays his hand, a nice touch for anyone slightly unfamiliar with the final moments.

This was a Tosca to believe in, and the love of life, and emotional pain, expressed by Paula Sides lent the title role a beauty and charm sometimes missing with more famous sopranos in heavier productions.

Performances continue at: Hackney Empire, 9th Mar; Lighthouse, Poole, 18th Mar; Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, 21st Mar; Churchill Theatre, Bromley, 25th Mar; Snape Maltings Concert Hall, 30th Mar, 1st Apr; York Theatre Royal, 8th Apr; Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, 11th Apr; Curve, Leicester, 13th Apr; Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, 19th, 22nd Apr; Cambridge Arts Theatre, 25th, 28th, 29th Apr; G Live Guildford, 2nd May; Buxton Opera House, 4th, 5th May; Warwick Arts Centre, 9th May; The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, 13th May; Gala Theatre, Durham, 16th May 2017; Perth Festival, Perth Concert Hall, 18th May; Exeter Northcott Theatre, 23rd, 26th, 27th May; Hall for Cornwall, Truro, 29th May; Norwich Theatre Royal, 1st Jun, 2nd Jun; Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, 5th Jun; Coronation Hall, Ulverston, 7th Jun; Grand Theatre Blackpool, 10th Jun — for details click here.

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