Review: TOSCA, London Coliseum

Christof Loy’s production is urgent and beautifully staged

By: Oct. 03, 2022
Enter Your Email to Unlock This Article

Plus, get the best of BroadwayWorld delivered to your inbox, and unlimited access to our editorial content across the globe.

Existing user? Just click login.

Review: TOSCA, London Coliseum

Review: TOSCA, London Coliseum In opera, as in life, a lot can happen in a day.

Corrupt police chief lusts after singer Tosca. When her lover Cavaradossi is suspected of assisting an escaped political prisoner, he seizes the opportunity have Tosca for himself. Will Tosca sacrifice her lover or herself?

At its heart, Tosca is a psychological drama of love, lust, murder and political intrigue. It is brutal and violent, with moments of great tenderness. With its intense story line and Puccini's richly romantic score, it is one of the world's best loved operas.

In the first of three new ENO productions this autumn, Christof Loy's UK premiere of the Finnish National Opera and Ballet's new production is an insightful version that is also subtly updated.

Sinéad Campbell-Wallace is a suitably emotional Tosca. She started her career as a light-lyric soprano, but the best Toscas need a razor-sharp edge to their velvety tones. Her voice is clear and sharp, shown best in the quiet hopelessness at the end of "Vissi d'arte". Some more Italianate expression might have been welcome, but she shows playful coquettishness which turns to vulnerability behind the fiery diva.

Showing Loy's understanding of the opera, he has her singing "Vissi d'arte" while struggling with the drooling embrace of Scarpia. This makes the aria more of a lament to the life she has lost, than the set piece it sometimes comes across as.

Adam Smith is on excellent form, as a very elegant and passionate Cavaradossi. His defiant cries of "Vittoria!" in Act two reverberated around the Coliseum, singing of his memories of trysts with Tosca with moving solemnity.

There must be quite a bug spreading around theatreland. After The National Theatre's Blues For An Alabama Sky's press night was postponed this week due to cast illness, American baritone Noel Bouley was unable to sing Scarpia and so acted the role while a brilliant Roland Wood had been flown in to voice the part from the side of the stage.

Despite this setback, the pair still managed to combine to create a louche and chilling Scarpia, with a malevolence that makes you feel genuinely uneasy.

Bouley is a ruthless Scarpia, pale-faced with purple bags under his eye, stripping off and pawing at Tosca with lustful intent. He is also younger than the traditionally middle-aged character, which changes the dynamic of the story somewhat. Tosca rejects him because she is in love with Cavaradossi and wants to assert her agency, not simply because Scarpia is a leering old man.

Msimelelo Mbali is an underused, but powerfully controlled Angelotti, but John Findon's volume often gets swallowed by the orchestra as Spoletta. Leo Hussain conducts with purpose; creating the unease at Scarpia's behaviour and not allowing the opening of Act 3 to drag, as it sometimes does.

The production looks resplendent with gorgeous details such as a scuffed wooden entrance to the church and ornate candelabras on Scarpia's table. Christian Schmidt's design gives us sets that are both majestic and artistic; church in Act one is a particular highlight. However, it is an distracting decision to have a painted curtain slowly moving in and out of the action on stage. The intervals are also overly long, which interrupts the pace of the production.

There were quite a few audience members taking advantage of the ENO's excellent free ticket scheme for under 21s. Presumably, the decision to dress half the cast in 1950s dress and the other half as though they were part of the court of Louis XIV, is to illustrate the timeless nature of the story. However, I would imagine to many first-timers, it is simply confusing. I also question why the little shepherd is turned into a mini-Tosca to visit Cavaradossi in his prison cell.

Despite these decisions, Loy brings us a beautiful Tosca that feels more relevant than some past versions. It looks fantastic and will thrill many a jaded opera-goer.

Tosca is at the London Coliseum until 4 November

Photo Credit: Genevieve Girling


To post a comment, you must register and login.