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Tosca – King’s Head Theatre, London

Composer: Giacomo Puccini

Libretto: Adam Spreadbury-Maher

Director: Adam Spreadbury-Maher

Reviewer: Deborah Klayman

[rating:4.5]

Many companies aim to make Opera more accessible, but few as successfully as London-based OperaUpClose. With their residency at the King’s Head Theatre now well-established, the company have become masters at adapting grand operas for the small stage, and this production of Puccini’s Tosca is no exception. Transplanted from 19th century Rome to the East Germany of 1989, this version has stripped back the melodrama of the original story, instead favouring a more naturalistic style that relies on both the magnificent voices of the cast and their strong acting talents.

With an engagingly modern libretto, penned by director Adam Spreadbury-Maher, and superbly orchestrated for a trio of instruments by Danyal Dhondy (Piano, Cello and Clarinet), this Tosca explores the political landscape of communism in collapse. The opera’s cast has been reduced to a quartet, with Sheridan Edward as Mario, Francis Church as Scarpia, and Demelza Stafford as the eponymous diva. Additionally, Steven East plays the multiple rôles of Caretaker, Angelotti and Spoletta – who is this version is an amalgamation of three minor characters. Although an admirable feat and well performed by East, this trebling was one of the only sticking points in this production, and it certainly would have benefitted from one more person on stage, particularly in the opening act.

Cleverly staged and well directed the production makes the most of the comedy in act one, particularly in the fabulous first scene between Mario and Tosca, giving them great scope for the road ahead. Peppered with innuendo that paves the way for Scarpia’s second act indecent proposal, the production also explores sex as power, with Tosca’s assassin rôle given a clear and believable motive. Scaled down as it is, the popular arias came thick and fast, with Stafford’s spine-tingling rendition of “Vissi d’arte” (“I lived for art, I lived for love”) moving many to tears. All of the singers gave sterling performances and made great sense of the lyrics, impressing with their clarity of diction – no mean feat in the world of opera. Church gives an outstanding turn as Scarpia which is utterly convincing and wonderfully odious, but it is Stafford who truly steals the show in the title rôle. Evincing true emotion throughout her journey from jealous star to devastated lover, she is both note and pitch perfect, with her performance in the opera’s dramatic climax bringing down the house. If anyone doubted the huge success of this production, the standing ovation the cast received from the audience at the end should have silenced any critics.

Runs until 10th November (alternating cast)

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