Thursday 13 June 2024

Second view: Anna Patalong makes her role debut as Puccini's Tosca at Opera Holland Park

Puccini: Tosca - Opera Holland Park, 2024 (Photo: Ali Wright)
Puccini: Tosca - Opera Holland Park, 2024 (Photo: Ali Wright)

Puccini: Tosca; Anna Patalong, José de Eça, Morgan Pearse, director: Stephen Barlow, conductor: Matthew Kofi Waldren, City of London Sinfonia; Opera Holland Park
Reviewed 12 June 2024

A return to Opera Holland Park's 1968-set Tosca for the poised and engaging role debut of Anna Patalong

Puccini: Tosca - Anna Patalong - Opera Holland Park 2024 (Photo: James Clutton/Opera Holland Park)
Puccini: Tosca - Anna Patalong - Opera Holland Park 2024
(Photo: James Clutton/Opera Holland Park)

We returned to Opera Holland Park's production of Puccini's Tosca that opened its 2024 season [see my review] on Wednesday 12 June 2024 to see Anna Patalong taking up the role of Tosca in her role debut, alongside the original cast, José de Eça as Cavaradossi, Morgan Pearse as Scarpia, Edwin Kaye as Angelotti, Ross Ramgobin as the Sacristan, Phillip Costovski as Spoleta and Alex Jones as Sciarrone. Matthew Kofi Waldren conducted the City of London Sinfonia.

Second time around, Stephen Barlow's production remains as enjoyable as ever and this time, one appreciated the immense detail that he brings to the story, layering it carefully. Yet it is never detail that pulls focus, but simply contributes to the narrative and the setting. So that the constant passing by of various ordinary members of the public at the opening of Act One provides the right amount of local colour to establish what otherwise might be a rather bald setting, but also feeds into Angelotti's (Edwin Kaye) anxieties. 

This is not one of those transpositions where you have to make plenty of allowances when following the text, here Barlow has imaginatively transposed virtually everything, so that Ross Ramgobin's Sacristan still complains about cleaning brushes, but now refers to the stiff brush that he is using to clean the church steps. Not everything works perfectly, but second time around we were just as transported and never had the problem of 'yes but...'

José de Eça's Cavaradossi remains an impressive achievement. De Eça sings with a fabulous dark tone and a lovely consistency, which goes a long way in this role. His phrases had a fine evenness to them, along side a certain thrill. Frankly, he is not the most exciting of actors but his Cavaradossi worked as a character, though there is still the sneaking suspicion that de Eça relies a little too much on 'la voce' to provide the excitement, but he is a terrific find, crowning the evening with a lovely account of his final aria.

Second time around, I warmed to the way Morgan Pearse's portrayed Scarpia not as a physical bully but as a slimy, political toad. This was all about body language. Pearse's voice lacks the heft to impose itself on his surroundings, but he more than compensates via a terrific all round performance. This Scarpia was compelling to look at all the time, and Pearse's vivid vocalism always matched it. There was real excitement in the way that he played cat and mouse with Anna Patalong's Tosca.

There was no sense that Anna Patalong was making a debut, or stepping in part of the way through the run of the production. From her first entry, this 1960s dolly bird Tosca was poised and confident. She was quite serious, but youthful in tone, there was nothing girlish about her.  There was a nice heft to the voice, but a certain vivaciousness too. So, there was a playfulness to her interactions with José de Eça's Cavaradossi, yet it was clear who had the upper hand. You also sensed that she liked being La Tosca, the celebrity. Yet, when the going got tough, there was an impulsiveness and vibrancy to her performance, this Tosca really got worked up in the heat of a moment, so it was easy for Morgan Pearse's Scarpia to get a rise from her. Patalong was a very physical performer, and this rather suggested the character's youthfulness. In Act Two, 'Vissi d'arte' was movingly done and intense, but as part and parcel of a whole, and Act Three was compelling. A notable debut.

The remaining cast were all impressive in their support, and this remains a terrific ensemble production. There was one other role debut, Daniel Catalogna as the shepherd boy at the opening of Act Three (here the young gopher in the bar), singing with firm, clear tone and fitting convincingly into the production. 

Chorus, children from Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School and the City of London Sinfonia were all on top form, adding to the vividness of our experience second time around. I continue to enjoy Matthew Kofi Waldren's combination of discipline and flexibility in this repertoire, and there never felt anything 'reduced' about the orchestral contribution.

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  1. Wonderful and well deserved review. Anna Patalong was sensational! Slight typo: "You also sensed that she like be La Tosca, the celebrity."


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