|Puccini: Tosca - English Touring Opera (photo Richard Hubert Smith)|
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 9 2017
A new production takes time to catch fire, but showcases some fine individual performances
For its Spring 2017 tour, English Touring Opera (ETO) has paired together two contrasting operas, Puccini's Tosca and Gilbert & Sullivan's Patience, taking them to 22 different venues between now and 10 June. The tour opened at the Hackney Empire and we caught the second performance of Tosca on Thursday 9 March 2017. The opera is double cast and we saw Laura Mitchell as Tosca, Alexander James Edwards as Cavaradossi, Craig Smith as Scarpia, Timothy Connor as Angelotti, Jan Capinski as the Sacristan (replacing Matthew Stiff), Aled Hall as Spoleta and Maciek O'Shea as Sciarrone. The production was directed by Blanche McIntyre, designed by Florence de Mare with lighting by Mark Howland, and Michael Rosewell conducted.
|Puccini: Tosca - Alexander James Edwards - English Touring Opera |
(photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Blanche McIntyre's production treated the opera entirely naturalistically, using the original early 19th century setting and concentrating on telling the story clearly and directly. This is no bad thing, when a popular opera like Tosca goes on tour to so many places, there is a good chance that a lot of the people seeing it will be relatively unfamiliar with live opera. But McIntyre comes from a spoken theatre background, Tosca was her first major opera production and I felt that she had not quite got the hang of how the medium works best. And naturalism only works if applied consistently, there were simply too many moments when things failed (Scarpia having no-where to hide in the church, the necessity of having women and girls surpliced and robed, and the fact that the women in the congregation did not cover their heads with mantillas).
The most telling moments were the smaller, more intimate ones or when just a couple of characters interacted. The production was full of imaginative details in the different characters, but particularly in Act One these never quite came together. Opera is not naturalistic, and McIntyre seemed to struggle somewhat with the bigger ensembles, and the moments when Puccini gives the characters big belt numbers. So the dramaturgy had naturalism going in and out of focus. This is the sort of thing that will settle as the production matures on the run.
|Laura Mitchell, Alexander James Edwards (photo Richard Hubert Smith)|
Laura Mitchell's soprano is on the light side for Tosca, she sings Cleopatra (Giulio Cesare) for ETO in the Autumn and has Fiordiligi, Pamina and Gilda in her repertoire. In Act One she emphasised the more girlish side of Tosca's character, She lacked the vehement fire that a more dramatic voice might bring, within these dramatic parameters the role was finely sung with Mitchell's clean lines paying great dividends in the elegance of Puccini's music, and familiarity will bring a little more relaxation and flexibility. Then in Act Two, the dramatic pressure brought about a change and Mitchell showed a real cutting edge to her voice, so that the drama really did ramp up. 'Vissi d'arte' was a finely sung pause point, but the main thrust of the second two acts was the concentrated intensity of Mitchell's performance.
|Aled Hall, Craig Smith, Alexander James Edwards |
(Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Craig Smith made an elegant Scarpia using his manners as a weapon, rather than being a bluff bully. This fitted well with Smith's musical performance; his voice lacks the sheer heft to dominate in the Act One finale. But he created a strong sense of character, though perhaps with not quite enough feeling of danger. But his duel with Laura Mitchell's Tosca in Act Two really upped the intensity of the performance. Their long dialogue sequence made for some thrillingly intense theatre.
It was Aled Hall as Spoleta, though, who really gave a masterclass in making a nasty character count whilst seemingly doing very little. Hall's Spoleta was a wonderfully nasty piece of work, clearly relishing his job, all done within an apparently narrow but really telling dramatic range.
|ETO: Tosca - Laura Mitchell, Maciek OShea, Craig Smith, Photo Richard Hubert Smith)|
The children in Act One came from a local school, and each performance will use a different local source for the children. We saw ones from St Mary's and St John's CE School, and very good they were too. The Te Deum is led by a cardinal, a non singing role played each night by a different volunteer.
This was one of those evenings where everything was in the right place, and there were some powerful individual performances, yet it did not come out quite vintage. Partly this is the fault of the critic, who inevitably comes at an opera laden with the baggage of previous productions (My first Tosca was Scottish Opera in Glasgow in the 1970s and I have seen plenty of productions since). The audience last night was vocally enthusiastic, interrupting to applaud at all the key moments, and giving the cast a warm reception afterwards. It is usually only critics who constantly want their palates tickled; that the production did not try to do too much with the opera, and allowed it to speak for itself is very much an advantage to most in ETO's key audience.
Elsewhere on this blog:
- We're crowdfunding for Quickening, a disc of new settings of Rowan Williams, AE Housman, Ivor Gurney, Christina Rossetti by Robert Hugill coming out on the Navona Records label, please visit http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/quickening
- Sacred and Profane: Netherlands Chamber Choir and Peter Dijkstra - Concert review
- Shedding light on a forgotten Romantic: Mehul's Uthal - CD review
- Sunday afternoon delights: I Musicanti at St John's Smith Square - concert review
- Mescaline, therapy & the Berlin Wall: rough for opera #15 - opera review
- Ancient and Modern: Carolyn Sampson and Matthew Wadsworth in Dowland, Britten, Goss, Purcell - concert review
- Imaginative & engaging: Tara Erraught at Rosenblatt Recitals - concert review
- Powerful and deeply felt: James MacMillan's Stabat Mater - CD review
- Revitalising her reputation: Francesca Caccini's Alcina - CD review
- Before he was famous: Bellini's first opera Adelson e Salvini from Opera Rara - CD review
- Powerful first opera: Ryan Wigglesworth's The Winter's Tale - opera review