ENO Response 2022/23: Tosca reviews

20th October 2022 in News

ENO Response is a scheme that offers aspiring writers the opportunity to review opera whilst receiving writing advice and feedback from industry mentors.

The ENO presents Puccini’s much-loved thriller, Tosca; receiving its UK premiere, this staging was last seen at The Finnish National Opera in 2018.

A stylishly traditional take on Puccini’s riveting classic, this is a tale of danger, passion and murder. With her artist beau Cavaradossi competing for her affections against the sadistic police chief Scarpia, Tosca’s story becomes intertwined with the tumultuous political landscape of Rome. When passion and politics collide, love can prove a fatal weakness.

Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)
Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa
Conductor, Leo Hussain (Richard Farnes, 2 & 4 Nov)
Director, Christof Loy

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Andrew Lohmann
Lust and Loss in ENO’s Tosca

Christof Loy’s production of Tosca at ENO breathes life into Puccini’s classic drama to give us a captivating performance.

Loy presents a traditional staging with grand backdrops, gilt curtains and some wonderful costumes. It provides an excellent vehicle for the orchestra and vocalists to deliver a moving display.

The show charges onto the stage with recently escaped political prisoner Angelotti dashing into the church accompanied by his brazen leitmotif.  Msimelelo Mbali fills the role, bringing the sense of gasping panic and desperation needed to understand the character.

Adam Smith makes his debut at the ENO as Cavaradossi, Smith’s charismatic stage presence and remarkable voice filled the Coliseum and harmonised perfectly with the powerful, vibrant orchestral pieces. He would have undoubtedly been the shining focal point for the opera if not for his pairing with the equally breath-taking Irish Soprano Sinéad Campbell-Wallace as the eponymous singer. Sinéad’s indomitable clarity and range grasp the listener and propel us through Tosca’s tumultuous personal journey.

Noel Bouley was meant to also provide his first ENO performance as Scarpia but was unfortunately unable to sing so walked the part on stage mouthing along, we were instead regaled from the side-lines by the ever reliable Roland Wood. While the disconnect between voice and actor location was slightly disconcerting, the engaging power of the show soon remediates the distraction.

Scarpia’s menacing stage presence is supplemented with painted ashen face, reddened bloodshot eyes and thuggish retinue. He seems very much a one dimensional villainous caricature rather than full character. That said, it is difficult to find many other aspects to Scarpia.

The big set piece arias were all exceptionally well delivered. Scarpia’s Te Deum closed act 1 with such mournful, elegiac feeling and foreshadowing of the rest of the tragedy that I was absolutely loath to go to the interval.

Tosca itself is set in the political turmoil during Napoleon’s invasion of Italy. The plot revolves around the emotional turbulence of several key characters as their lives are wrenched between political and religious divides, all intermingled with fiery lust and devastating heartbreak. I think Loy set out to capture the essence of this and it has been excellently done. It is though a safe, unadventurous version of the opera. A similar Tosca could have been on stage at any time between now and when it was originally shown, relying on the solidity of the material rather than giving a shot at elevating it. Even so, the undeniable quality of the performance does mean that if ever a show did not need to rely on gimmick it is this one. I left the theatre with heart pounding and legs aquiver, seriously considering seeing it twice.

Alexander Russell

Puccini’s timeless opera Tosca returns to the ENO in a somewhat conservative but hugely enjoyable new production directed by Cristoph Loy. This was opera at its most passionate and stinging, clearly conveying Tosca’s enduring appeal whilst successfully being accessible enough for a new generation of opera goers.

This production bows to tradition with its staging and setting but it is triumphant in amplifying the opera’s ability to ignite and shock, principally due to the performances of the three key singers. The chemistry between Adam Smith as Mario Cavaradossi and Sinead Campbell- Wallace is immediate and captivating, and it lends a thrilling energy to the first act which zips from flirting and passion to terror and panic at the entrance of Scarpia. Sinead Campbell- Wallace as Tosca was a particular delight, she is arresting and captivating as the doomed excellenza.

A lot of this opera’s abiding power is due to the infamy of the detestable Baron Scarpia. Tonight, Noel Bouley had lost his voice and therefore he walked the part whilst Roland Wood sang from the sides. Other than adding a slight air of ghostly uncanniness to proceedings, the performance was not diminished by this change, Bouley still expertly captured Scarpia’s desperate cruelty, his lust and vile assault on Tosca in the second act was devastating in its brutality.

The sense of claustrophobia and rising panic for Tosca in this act was aided by the curtain at the rear slowly encroaching across the stage. This was a smart and subtle staging decision that worked in both reinforcing the sense of Tosca’s entrapment whilst also counting down to Scarpia’s eventual demise. When his death finally arrived, it was shocking but cathartic. Tosca survives with her humanity intact, her placing of the candles around the dead tyrant was a touching traditional note.

Not so subtle was the use of the curtain in the third act. In an unusual move this production chooses to stage the beginning of in Cavaradossi’s cell, deep underground, the curtain then slowly falls when he and Tosca are front of stage to rise again and reveal the execution platform. This change can be commended for further increasing the impending sense of doom for Cavaradossi, his world and chances of escape getting ever smaller with the tightening spaces. It works then that when the curtain is raised that this accentuates a cruel glimpse of the promise of freedom. However, this set change falls flat in seeming a bit obvious and clunky, a rare misstep in a polished evening.

The end, however, is tragically always the same. Tosca’s realisation of Scarpia’s betrayal and her final words to the dead Mario are heart breaking, as are her final doomed moments. This was a successful first night of the season for ENO and demonstrated once again that Tosca still has the power to bewitch and shock in equal measure.

Brooke Bolcho
Loy’s ENO directorial debut of ‘Tosca’ gives a beautifully bold and riveting open to the new operatic season

Puccini’s story of love, corruption and tragedy is brought to the London Coliseum through the direction of Christof Loy, a world-renowned freelance operatic director whose daring and grandiose staging coupled with Leo Hussian’s captivating conduction gave the audience a spell-binding night filled with tension, shock and laughter. Loy’s reimagination of one of the greatest operas of all time is visually majestic and a spectacular homage to the great architecture of 18th Century Rome, with the action of Act 1 set in the church of Sant’Andrea Della Valle whilst Act 2 is in an equally impressive apartment of Scarpia, the opera’s main antagonist. The final act is as solemn as its set, depicting Cavaradossi’s solitude in his tiny prison cell amidst the darkness of the rest of the stage surrounding him; A premonition to the tragedy of the final scene in which he is shot dead in front of his lover Tosca who then jumps from the roof of the Castel Sant’Angelo in her grief and heartbreak. The recurring motif of the glamorous red with golden detailing curtain drapes perhaps serves as a double meaning of the beauty and bloodshed which surrounds this epic tale. Christian Schmidt, the production’s designer, has outdone himself with the attention to detail to recreate the opera in a timeless nature whilst adhering to the political context of the period with the fusion of historically accurate and grand costumes of characters who represented the aristocratic institutions and the simple, modern costumes of those who were revolutionary symbols.

Sinéad Campbell-Wallace, who played the title character of Tosca, flawlessly embodied her character’s struggle between her faith and her burning desire to save her lover with her piercing soprano voice filling the theatre with her pain. Campbell-Wallace’s ability to create comedy, even during the most intense scenes, through Tosca’s absurd self-dramatisation aided in diffusing tension and allowing the audience to have a little laugh before being plunged back into the melodrama, particularly after Tosca murders Scarpia and sings ‘He is dead, now I forgive him’. Adam Smith’s ENO debut as Cavaradossi was a tour-de-force performance as he sustained a powerful vocal and stage presence whilst capturing his characters’ goodness and burning love for Tosca in his passionate ballads, particularly at the start of the final Act where he awaits his execution and laments his tragic love story with outstanding lyrical despair. Despite Noel Bouley’s illness which prevented him from singing, his domineering physical presence on stage alongside Roland Wood’s experienced baritone vocals from the side was a true embodiment of the spectacular collaborative nature of opera as the two men merged into one in a way that should have been a jarring experience however it created the perfect villain. Hussian’s conducting elevated the political thriller to new heights with the seamless tension building with the glorious ENO orchestra. Loy’s ‘Tosca’ is a must-see melodrama filled with passion, powerhouse vocals and a picturesque backdrop.

Jacob Lewis
As if her whole world was being torn asunder

Tosca usually packs quite a punch, as does ENO’s new staging, reusing elements from a Finnish National Opera production. Its timeless themes of passion, power and politics (sexual and otherwise) are just as potent today as when Puccini set pen to paper at the close of the 19th century.

Conductor Leo Hussain and Director Christof Loy make a dream team for this production; the drama and music complement each other perfectly. Puccini foreshadows our duo’s tragic end right from the first act, and Hussain uses the orchestra to intensify this to great effect. Nothing is held back from an audience that will be broadly familiar with the work; we know from the start that this story will not end well. The set and costumes are beautiful and classic, but I was most impressed with the lighting. In act two, stark light casts long shadows onto the great walls of Scarpia’s dining hall and feels as if the moon has taken over the whole sky, amplifying the palpable tension already present.

The chemistry between our lovers is infectious, and Loy has created some magic between Tosca (Sinéad Campbell-Wallace) and Cavaradossi (Adam Smith) that yearns for a happier ending. Cavaradossi came alive whenever Tosca was on stage, his character inseparable from her. Tosca was glowing throughout the performance; her projection, in particular, meant that the orchestra had to hold nothing back during climactic moments, adding to the emotional hammer-blows in the second act.

Scarpia was walked by Noel Bouley, whose physicality complimented Roland Wood’s singing from the side; this only proved minimally distracting. Still, the result was stunning. Scarpia’s licentious madness presented a perfect villain to our couple, drawing us into his cult of power with a ritualistic performance of the legendary Te Deum. Even after his death, his presence can be felt in his firing squad, who move and act as if placed under a terrible spell, pushing them into action.

Lucas’s Sacristan and Findon’s Spoletta were also exceedingly characterful. They gave plenty for the main cast to bounce off, although they were occasionally drowned by the orchestra, leaving me to rely on surtitles to understand them.

The only slight hiccup is the pacing. Acts one and two deliver the real emotional hammer blows. When Tosca, tormented by Scarpia with her lover’s torture, is tempted to give up her secret, it is as if her whole world is being torn asunder. Unfortunately, act three then feels underwhelming, all the significant beats have been set in motion, and there is only so much material from Puccini with which to work.

Cian Kinsella
The eponymous star shines bright

Opera is a complicated affair, and in this instance director Christof Loy made the correct choice by not complicating it further. He and conductor Leo Hussain offer little in the way of allegory in service of Puccini’s score and a powerful plot.

Set in early 19th century Rome, the opera singer Tosca, sung by Sinéad Campbell-Wallace, loves the painter Mario Cavaradossi, played by Adam Smith. An ailing Noel Bouley walked the part of Baron Scarpia, the morally and professionally corrupt chief of police who arouses suspicion in Tosca of an affair with a mind to having her for himself; baritone Roland Wood sang Scarpia’s part in the wings on its opening night.

Campbell-Wallace’s eponymous heroine is unmatched in this production: she commands attention on stage even when not singing. Smith’s voice is also a joy to hear, and he breathes puppy-dog-eyed, bohemian life into Cavaradossi as he bounds romantically about the stage. But his weak gravitational pull is comic alongside the authority of Tosca and Scarpia; he lacks the adamance necessary to balance the romance. Bouley on the other hand is a convincingly nefarious Scarpia who exudes the requisite depravity of the role – he would be an excellent Edmund or Iago. As the play progresses, he unties his hair and removes more of his initially grandiose outfit, and his moral turpitude is gradually revealed in tandem with that of his physical ugliness.

Christian Schmidt’s design is tastefully executed and spare – by no means is it spartan, but the purpose of each prop is apparent. The setting of Act 1, a Roman basilica, is signposted solely and succinctly by a large, looming icon of the Virgin Mary stage-right; Act 2, in Scarpia’s apartment, features an opulent dinner table; in Act 3 Olaf Winter’s lighting realises the constriction of Cavaradossi’s prison cell by blacking out most of the stage. The cell could easily be from a Samuel Beckett set.

Schmidt’s austerity compounds the impact of moments with large ensembles and draws attention to the gradual spiritual decline in Tosca: the presence of Mary in Act 1, so revered by the protagonists and a refuge for the political prisoner Angelotti, is supplanted by tiny crucifixes hung on the wall in following acts.

Tosca’s drawbacks are few, but not negligible. The decision to use checkerboard tiling is poor since it inevitably invites the audience to think of the plot as a superficial game of chess. Cavaradossi’s leather jacket at the beginning also felt incongruous with the largely period costume. And while Edmund Tracey translated the libretto well, there were some poor turns of phrase: in one instance, Angelotti was described as ‘installed’ in a safehouse.

Many directors feel an attraction towards recasting old works in new light: Ralph Fiennes’s 2011 adaptation of Coriolanus or JoAnne Akalaitis’s 1984 staging of Beckett’s Endgame, set in a New York subway, come to mind. Loy, however, highlights the primacy of plot and score, and rightly situates Tosca at the centre of Tosca.

Alexander Bridges
Dramatic Unity, Personal Conflict: Christof Loy’s Tosca

For a production that jumps centuries in dress, Christof Loy’s Tosca is remarkably cohesive. Staged only once before in 2018, its UK premiere at the English National Opera immediately establishes its individuality: Christian Schmidt’s mélange of costume design means that Scarpia’s period uniform clashes sharply with Tosca’s sweeping, early 20th Century dress and Cavaradossi’s edgy, rebellious leather jacket. However, it is contrast that paradoxically brings the production together: the opening sight of a black-and-white chessboard floor subtly emphasises the importance of intrigue and interpersonal push-and-pull in the production. Loy’s decision to have the shepherd boy’s aria in Act Three sung by Tosca (Sinéad Сampbell-Wallace), an arresting change in a well-known opera, further underlines the importance of deeply personal interactions and reactions between characters, removing the ‘distraction’ of the hill-dwelling shepherd separated from the main action. Indeed, the dramatic push and pull of the characters is one of the production’s most successful elements, becoming jarring only in Tosca’s rather stilted demise (as she skips past motionless guards towards the balcony).

Vocal performance was also impressive: Campbell-Wallace’s Tosca dominates the production with a rich, rounded voice that supports her character’s sensual presence and effectively drops down to parlando in moments of great emotion. Tosca’s acting complimented this well, personifying the Italian prima donna with sensual gestures and jealous fits. This slightly overshadowed Adam Smith’s Cavaradossi, whose pleasantly mellifluous voice sometimes struggled to compete with that of his lover’s: even his first aria (when Tosca is absent) did not quite summon the grandeur that his role in the opera and the imposing setting of the church demanded. In fact, Tosca’s most effective counterpart is Roland Wood’s Scarpia. Despite being flown in at short notice due to the illness of original casting choice of Noel Bouley (who walked the part while Wood sung), Wood’s bronzed, rough tones complement Tosca’s, just as grand but pleasingly fearsome.

It is always challenging to put an opera on in translation, but the performers do justice to Edmund Tracey’s established libretto (written for an ENO production of Tosca in 1976), taking advantage of its smooth flow and subdued tone to bring their own music to life: apart from a few clashing rhymes, the bulk of the translation is simple and direct. However, it is the singers’ physicality that fully brings Loy’s production together, making a success both of the translated libretto and the potentially discordant costuming. Bouley’s Scarpia is particularly successful in his self-indulgently unpleasant lechery, swaggering around Tosca in a velvet dressing gown. His caresses during Tosca’s restrained yet soulful rendition of ‘Vissi d’arte’ highlights his power over her and her piteous position, while also making sure that no dramatic tension is lost due to the change in pacing that comes with an aria. A strong orchestral performance (conducted by Leo Hussain) rounds out the production to bring it together nicely, bringing conflict together to cohesion.

Arrije Mohamed
Puccini’s well established known Tosca; visits the English National Opera exceptionally fiercely with a sentimental twist.

Giacomo Puccini returns to the English National Opera with a fierce thriller, first seen in 2018 at Finnish National Opera. Set in the 1800s of Rome during the French Revolution. Director Christof Loy along with conductor Leo Hussain have combined forces to produce a cinematic opera experience.

The moment the curtains ascend we are greeted with a cold, comfortless dimness. The fog in the air combined with the sad climatic music sets the tone for Act I. The set had a sombre feeling, (with its watchful Madonna) lonely, despite it supposedly being God’s welcoming house. Ironically although the Madonna is a primary factor in Tosca’s life she did not hesitate to sin once she decided to save her Cavaradossi. The church bells are prominent throughout, as if they were a warning of something terrible to come despite all of the joyful moments throughout.

Floria Tosca’s dashing looks are striking, dressed in gleaming jewels, she was always clad completely in black. Perhaps to match and emphasize the blackness of her soul. The only part of Tosca that was not black were her jewels. It was as if Tosca’s outfits and the sombre music left us intrigued on what might happen next, creating an atmosphere of tension and suspense.

The start of Act II is set in a sophisticated but empty room with high ceilings. A large central table placed in the middle with one lonely chair signifies the isolation of Scarpia. At the end of Act II, we witness a new addition – a second chair – and the music starts to change from acute to joyous, we get the sense that Scarpia is no longer lonely. Little does the audience know what is about to happen. We witness Tosca gruesomely kill Scarpia with his own dagger and slip on his red cape which will follow her till the very end of her journey. No longer dressed in black, but in avenger’s scarlet as she takes revenge for her lover, once she slips on the cursed cape the deaths start to accumulate.

Among the singers Sinead Campbell-Wallace was enchanting from the moment she walked on like a princess and never failed to captivate the eye. Her clear soprano audible to the back of the hall. Roland Wood was also impressive as Scarpia, particularly as he was covering for an indisposed Adam Smith, who walked through the part, his voice perfectly even throughout its range, as if he’d been playing the role all his life with ease.

Christof Loy’s production is unmissable. With Leo Hussain’s breathtaking conducting, this Puccini classic is a consuming masterpiece that I would urge every opera fanatic to go and see.

Leah Renz
Tosca Review

Going into Puccini’s Tosca I expected drama, passion, and abominable villainy; what I did not anticipate was a genuinely funny first act. Tosca (Sinéad Campbell-Wallace) and her Cavaradossi (Adam Smith) share rom-com worthy chemistry, and the holier-than-thou Sacristan (Lucia Lucas) prompts frequent laughter. Not needing to glance at Italian/English surtitles because the opera is translated makes for much better comedy.

It’s a lively opening night for ENO’s 22/23 season, and momentous as the company’s first new production of Tosca in over a decade. German director Christof Loy leans into the melodrama of Tosca, and stages it in a stunning neoclassic set – all high ceilings, red velvet, and white archways.

The set is populated by footmen in 17th century livery, clergy in black cassocks and the occasional bobbing cupcake of a Georgian-era lady. Though not entirely intelligible as symbolic of a clash between the ancien régime and the revolutionaries, the effect is beautiful.

The costumes also allow for dramatic robe-swishing as Scarpia (Noel Bouley) paces across the cavernous space. Due to illness on opening night, Bouley was forced to lip-sync his part as Roland Wood sung from the side-lines. Though Roland Wood was initially conspicuous at the front left of the stage, he sung wonderfully, and the emergency arrangement worked well. Physically, Noel Bouley is deliciously slimy as a sidling villain, pressing his face beside that of Tosca in a horrible parallel to Cavaradossi’s previous loving gestures.

The physicality and acting of the cast are one of the many strengths of this production. Particularly moving is Tosca’s Vissi d’Arte, an aria directed as if she is disassociating from trauma as Scarpia gropes and kisses her from behind. Her post-murder placement of the candlesticks and crucifix is an authentic-feeling display of good acting and powerful symbolism.

It was Adam Smith as Cavaradossi however who steals the show. His singing accomplishes great emotional tone, from his gentle humouring of Tosca to his somehow-believable odes of passion. Even as visually his eventual prison cell fails to elicit much excitement, his arias remain a delight.

Conductor Leo Hussain and the ENO orchestra too are in fantastic form, with lovely dynamic control and sense of drama. They supplement the rare slower moments on stage with Puccini’s excellently played score.

Loy’s Tosca is totally engrossing. The easy banter in Act 1 gives the hopefulness of love room to flourish before it is sabotaged and (literally) killed off by Scarpia. Puccini’s melodrama is captured with expressive yet believable acting and both Smith and Campbell-Wallace’s voices blend beautifully with their accompanying orchestral climaxes. This ENO production is a fantastic introduction to one of the great classics of opera.

Maisie Allen
A Traditional Take on Tosca

The ENO set their bar high for their opening opera of the season with Puccini’s thriller Tosca, advertised as a ‘stylishly traditional take’ on the tale of danger, passion, and murder.

Following beloved opera singer Tosca as her lover becomes entangled in a web of political lies, the story culminates in the ultimate act of deceit as the leads become consumed by their own jealousy in their desire for power.

Set against a chessboard floor and whitewashed walls, Christof Loy’s take used the company’s voices to their maximum intensity. The intensity however, despite Tosca’s melodrama, at times felt jarring against the orchestral score as the leads Sinéad Campbell-Wallace and Adam Smith, the opera’s namesake Tosca and her lover Mario respectively, were left competing with the pit below. With such strong performances from the company, it felt like the orchestra’s volume could have been toned down to avoid what felt like a jarring battle between instruments and voices. Nevertheless, Campbell-Wallace’s sweet yet dense vocals were paired beautifully next to Smith’s smooth lines.

It felt a pity then that this staging of Tosca, whilst beautifully directed, was such a typical representation. Despite a brief flash of a leather jacket in Act One amongst the 1950s clothing of the ensemble, the rest of the wardrobe and casting choices felt overwhelmingly classical on the sixteenth century set. Act One’s approach to a more casual wardrobe made way for typical early nineteenth century dress in Acts Two and Three, perhaps as a way of following the characters’ lies that entangled them in their own suffering as the lies surrounding Tosca grew bigger and bigger.

As the final Act began, building upon the dramatic finale of the previous Act, both Smith and Campbell-Wallace left themselves on stage with such a jaw-dropping height that was spine-tingling. Despite the slight vocal change with the evil Baron Scarpia instead being sung by baritone Roland Wood while being walked by Noel Bouley that jolted the performances slightly, Campbell-Wallace and Smith saved the final Act with their rich and passionate tones.

The staging felt undone at times by the volume of the bass-heavy orchestra, which tended to steal the spotlight away from on-stage performers. But, at its heart, Tosca is an opera about stealing, whether that is hearts, or lives. Loy’s direction of this masterpiece was an excellent opener for the 2022/23 season for the ENO: an explosive showcase of voices dripping in passion and rage.

Zara Bhayani
Christof Loy’s Tosca

Love, jealousy and everyone dies by the end – what better way to start a season of opera? Puccini continued Verdi’s Italian operatic dynasty, composing timeless escapes that rightfully remain part of the core repertoire. Three gripping acts, two ENO debuts and one tragic ending.

First performed in 2018 by the Finnish National Opera, Christof Loy’s lush production of Tosca does justice to the great composer. “No wonder people say Puccini already directed this opera while composing it”; Loy conveys his unfailing respect for the composer’s vision. Rather than a drastically modern interpretation, he creates a production that extends existing ideas. In line with the post-Romantic ‘verismo’ tradition, a distinctive feature of Puccini’s writing, the director’s concept is largely formed from traditionalism and realism. This is, however, juxtaposed by subtle modernist elements that highlight the two starkly different worlds of the plot.

Tosca is underpinned by politics, and Christian Schmidt’s costumes successfully separate the monarchists from the liberals. The majority of the cast, including Scarpia and his men, epitomise 19th century aristocracy; Cavaradossi and Angelotti’s contemporary suits set them apart, reflecting their republicanism. Equally, Schmidt’s masterful set design played a huge role in transporting the London audience to Rome 1800, ranging from an ornate Italian church in Act I to a soulless prison cell in Act III. However, a semi-transparent curtain descended on various occasions, unsatisfyingly jolting the audience back to reality.

Sinéad Campbell-Wallace returns to the ENO, yet again as a Puccini heroine. Her perfect characterisation of Tosca’s over-the-top nature warranted a few laughs and necessary moments of respite in a heavily emotional performance. The incredible strength of her upper register brought the character to life, contrasting with intimate moments of vulnerability.

However, Adam Smith’s arias as Cavaradossi completely stood out as the highlight of the performance. A voice with such a rich timbre and heart-warming vibrato impeccably fulfils the role of a hero. It is hard to believe that this was Smith’s ENO debut, so comfortable did he look on stage. In “Recondita armonia”, he maintained full vocal control whilst producing a sound so organic that it felt entirely driven by the irrepressible emotions of Cavaradossi. Of course, “E lucevan le stelle” did not disappoint; opening with a gorgeously executed clarinet solo, Smith’s performance earned a wave of applause.

Loy’s emphasis on characterisation reminds the audience that opera is not a purely musical art form. Perhaps this explains the decision to make an indisposed Noel Bouley act his part, whilst Roland Wood sang from the wing; an understudy, lacking intense theatrical preparation, would likely be unable to execute Loy’s intentions. Although rather unsatisfying as a whole, Bouley’s Scarpia remained obsessed in desire for Tosca until death.

Leo Hussain commanded the orchestra with great intensity, oozing with romanticism. Generally maintaining balance, the singers and instrumentalists merged flawlessly at climaxes to achieve maximum impact.

In all, Christof Loy has brought us a production of equal musical and theatrical integrity, where tradition and timelessness are able to coexist.

Bobby McGuire
Young Stars Shine Brightly in English National Opera’s Timeless Tosca

120 years after its premiere, is it possible for Puccini’s Tosca to feel fresh? In its English National Opera premiere, Cristof Loy’s Tosca is a classic with a few twists. There’s more than meets the eye with this Tosca.

The curtain rises with bold fanfare that gives way to an instantly familiar church. This world is deceivingly familiar. “Traditional,” I write in my notebook. As characters enter, a collage of visual elements emerges. Some elements feel at home in the original libretto, set in 1800 Rome. Scarpia and his men are dressed in military coats of the era, while sculpted, powdered wigs call back to an earlier Baroque period. Tosca’s wardrobe fast forwards to the elegant silhouettes of the 19th century, while Cavaradossi and Angelotti wear suits that are modernised to near present-day. It’s a visual world that refuses to settle in one time. I cross out “traditional” and borrow Loy’s own description— “timeless.”

This staging presents violence plainly and forces its characters to react. Puccini’s famous verismo (realism) is there, but with less melodrama. The acting is emotive and revealing. Adam Smith’s Cavaradossi, Sinead Campbell-Wallace’s Tosca and Noel Bouley’s Scarpia are all deeply stirring. Scarpia’s use of force is unflinching and unforgiving; Cavaradossi’s bravery is bold and unwavering; and Tosca’s loyalty is gritty. By laying the characters’ feelings and motives bare, the performance feels human.

In this production, Tosca and Cavaradossi’s love story takes centre stage. The intensity of the plot is offset by convincingly tender moments. The lovers are presented with space to breath, softer lighting, and, as if in relief, exhaled posture. Singing out to the audience, Tosca and Cavaradossi sing their love and loyalty arrestingly. Amidst the violence, the love story glitters through.

The night’s vocal performances are resonant and rich. Smith, Campbell-Wallace, and Roland Wood (singing Scarpia offstage on opening night) take every opportunity in Puccini’s score to showcase their upper registers.

An expressive orchestra and a formidable chorus underpin these strong vocals. The chorus provides an intensity of sound that reinforces the urgency of Tosca’s world. Conducted by Leo Hussain, the orchestra paints a soaring emotional world, presenting forceful renditions of Scarpia’s leitmotif, withdrawing in the arias, and swelling in the duets.

The biggest joy of the night is the young stars themselves. In many opera companies, Cavaradossi and Tosca are roles typically sung by veteran performers. The night’s young singers perform with a vitality and edge that is heightened by their youth. Smith’s tenor is particularly impressive. The resounding applause for Smith’s curtain call promises an exciting career for the tenor. Without compromising this beloved classic, ENO’s timeless Tosca is made fresh with its young stars.

Susannah Moody
An electrifying ode to the theatrical

In this UK premiere of Christof Loy’s Tosca, the ENO has kicked off its 2022/23 season with a production for Puccini purists and opera newcomers alike.
Set after the fall of the short-lived Roman Republic, Tosca shows a Rome caught in conflict. The young painter Cavaradossi and escaped dissident Angelotti appear in slick modern garb, pointing to the idealism of the French Revolution, while Chief of Police Scarpia and his pantomime-villain henchmen wear pre-Napoleonic dress. Tosca, lover of Cavaradossi and target of Scarpia’s sadistic lust, vacillates between both.
Tones of red, black and white permeate the piece, culminating in the black of Tosca’s slip, the red of Cavaradossi’s blood and the white uniforms of a firing squad. It is a striking production.

Theatricality is at the heart of this Tosca, emphasised with a trompe l’oeil red velvet curtain which pulls across the stage in times of high drama. Sometimes it’s effective. More often it is distracting.

Sinead Campbell-Wallace’s Tosca, however, leans captivatingly into this theatricality. Her performance, sung with a powerful upper register and sparkling warmth, gives the primadonna’s bosom-heaving and even her fits of jealousy – so often wearing – a knowing twinkle. Her Tosca is most comfortable in the melodramatic, which makes the moments where she is forced into reality heartrending.

Campbell-Wallace conveys the terror of a woman with no obvious political ideals who hears her lover’s torture, falls prey to Scarpia’s violence and murders the Chief of Police. Between flashes of horror she clings desperately to the theatrical, laying candles around his body and hissing the famous line “and before him, all Rome trembled”. A moment of shock is particularly potent when, having excitedly narrated the attempted rape and Scarpia’s murder to Cavaradossi, she stares at her hands, suddenly overwhelmed – and very quiet. At the climax of Scarpia’s violence, her actress’s wig even falls off.
ENO debut Noel Bouley plays Scarpia with a terrifying physicality. Channelling a predatory Javert, his ecstatic convulsions on the church floor during the Te Deum are unsettling and the bartering over Tosca’s body for Cavaradossi’s life is genuinely chilling, particularly as he pulls her onto his lap to hear the painter’s agony. Tosca’s lament Vissi d’Arte is usually sung alone downstage; here Scarpia continues to paw at her and it is claustrophobic in the extreme.

As Bouley was unwell on this night, he performed on-stage whilst Roland Wood (having flown in from America) sang off-stage. Adam Smith’s Cavaradossi was a stand-out ENO debut with a spine-tingling Vittoria!, and his tender indulgence of Tosca’s belief in their freedom is heartbreaking, their chemistry convincing. Star baritone Lucia Lucas’s Sacristan was compelling, between religiosity and fawning self-preservation. Leo Hussain conducted the orchestra with verve, although it occasionally drowned out the chorus.
This is a competent, electrifying production that delivers a serious dramatic punch.