Tosca – The Founders Hall, Chelsea

Reviewer: Emily Beech

Composer: Puccini

Director: Jane Gray

Musical Director: Aleksandra Myslek

Opera Loki’s production of Tosca is an ambitious and engaging presentation of one of Puccini’s best-loved works, expertly sung from start to finish but framed through a slight modernisation that doesn’t always hit the mark. Nonetheless, it’s a delight to hear music that was conceptualised for huge theatres and opera houses performed in a far more intimate space with no sacrificing of the score’s depth and expansiveness. Indeed, musical director and répétiteur Aleksandra Myslek plays the piano reduction with a perfect sensitivity, and has clearly rehearsed this cast with expertise and direction to create something that is of an extremely high quality.

Puccini’s work was originally set in the place and year it premiered, 1900 Rome. Director Jane Gray has set this production only a short while later, in Mussolini’s Rome of the 1920s. Though the cast are all fantastic singers and each deliver a character that is embodied and clear, by watching them onstage an audience can’t be fully convinced that these characters all live and move in the same time period. Visually, the only thing really signposting us to the era is a ‘Mussolini’ propaganda-esque poster in the centre flanked by two flags. Costuming would have been a perfect opportunity to contribute to the world-building here, but unfortunately is quite inconsistently executed and does not help to visually tie them all into the same time period.

All that aside, Jane Grey’s direction has taken the parameters of a space not designed for opera, and used it to tell one of the best-surviving and most iconic stories in the operatic canon. This is no small feat, and particularly in the second act, which features arguably the most fraught moments of action and where the narrative pace heightens rapidly, the storytelling is not only clear but very affecting, even for those of us who might have experienced the opera many times before.

Most of Puccini’s output is (famously) challenging to sing, demanding a technical security and maturity of instrument that is often overlooked. Tosca is no exception. But every singer in this production is excellent and clearly more than capable of such artistically and vocally challenging music, with no exceptions. Kirsty Taylor-Stokes sings the role of Floria Tosca with a voice that is immediately beautiful but, more importantly, filled with the breadth of colours and sheer expansiveness that can only be acquired by experience. Phil Clieve plays Mario Caravadosssi with an equally beautiful voice that fills the space with ease, and a sound that pairs very well with Taylor-Stokes’. Particular credit must go to Jack Roberts, a last-minute cover for the role of Spoletta, having only sung the part before in English but delivered the music in its original Italian extremely well.

This production of Tosca is, ultimately, a highly engaging and energised evening of operatic story-telling. It’s a challenging plot of extreme emotional contour and high stakes, but everybody (both on-stage and off) handles this challenge with ambition and flair.

Reviewed on 22 October 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Beautifully sung, energised story-telling.

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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