Tosca by Giacomo Puccini. English National Opera, the Colliseum, St Martin’s Lane, London WC2 to 4 November 2022. 4****. Clare Colvin.

Christof  Loy’s new production of Tosca, first seen pre-pandemic at Finnish National Opera,  makes a thrilling start to English National Opera’s 2022-23 season.  Despite one of those unfortunate first night events sprung on opera by malign fate – a viral bug that left Noel Bouley, in the role of chief of police Baron Scarpia, voiceless.  Last  minute rallying round brought a seamless substitute in baritone Roland Wood singing the role from the side, while Bouley convincingly “walked the part” on stage.

          Puccini’s Tosca, premiered in 1900, was based on playwright Victorien Sardou’s boulevard drama, and set in a turbulent Rome at the time of the Napoleonic wars.  Loy stays close to the original era but with a few deviations, as when a pair of 18th century courtiers in powdered wigs pop up for no apparent reason during the first act scene at the Church of S. Andrea Delle Valle.  The pace is set from the start as the political refugee Angelotti (Msimelelo Mbali) bursts in to the church, having escaped from the state prison of Castel Sant’Angelo hours before his execution.  The free-thinking artist Mario Cavaradossi, who is working on a commissioned portrait of the Madonna in the church, is incriminated for having helped the prisoner escape.  The sadistic chief of police Baron Scarpia tries to exert power over the diva Floria Tosca, Cavaradossi’s lover, by suggesting that the the artist has been unfaithful to her with the model for his portrait.   The scene climaxes in the thundering chords of the Te Deum, while Scarpia writhes with lust on the floor.

          Irish soprano Sinead Campbell-Wallace brings a gloriously lyrical voice to the role of Tosca, capturing the grace and and the edge of hysteria that reveals the psychological insecurity beneath the diva’s glamour.  Her knifing of Scarpia when he attempts to rape her is dealt with a force that fells him instantly.  Tenor Adam Smith as Cavaradossi strikes a fine heroic note in the first aria “Hidden Harmony”.  The final act as the condemned man awaits execution in a cell at the Castel Sant’Angelo is  exquisitely nostalgic with the heart-breaking, “And the stars were shining.”   Passionately sung, and with a punchy performance by the Orchestra of the English National Opera under conductor Leo Hussain, Christof Loy’s production should be an asset to ENO’s repertoire for quite a few years to come.

Conductor: Leo Hussain

Director: Christof Loy

Associate director: Georg Zlabinger

Designer:  Christian Schmidt

Associate set designer: Federico Pacher

Associate costume designer: Uta Baatz

Lighting: Olaf Winter.

Production photograph: Genevieve Girling.

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