The English National Opera returns for a brand new season – and it does so in style! Last seen at the Finnish National Opera in 2018, Christof Loy’s production of Puccini’s Tosca is the opening gambit of the 2022-2023 offering.
Tosca not only includes some of Puccini’s finest arias, but is undoubtedly one of opera’s greatest stories. Set over the evening and early morning of the 17th – 18th June 1800, Tosca follows the doomed love of musician Floria Tosca and her lover, painter Mario Cavaradossi, on the evening that Rome, under the control of the Papal States, heard of Napoleon’s immanent invasion.
On the Pope’s side, the sadistic chief of police Baron Scarpia is the obligatory antagonist. Scarpia’s wanton obsession with Tosca both seals the lovers’ fate and ensures his own rightful comeuppance. The story has it all, and Loy’s vision plays to the opera’s strengths by heightening its political context.
Christian Schmidt’s set is fairly traditional, but his costumes are an eclectic mix of stylised military coats, modern suits, and full Napoleonic bodices. While sometimes incongruous, it pointed to a story filled with strong allegiances and loyalties. The only real blunder is a red and gold curtain that clumsily makes it onto stage in all three acts. It was a wholly unnecessary addition to what was otherwise a stylistic success.
Sinéad Campbell-Wallace, last seen at The ENO as the delicate Mimi in last year’s La Boheme, makes for a memorable Floria Tosca. Campbell-Wallace owns every inch of her performance with an indisputable and compelling ferocity. Her singing is superb, her light top notes providing an excellent juxtaposition to her bold spoken phrases. When combined with her natural charisma, this makes for an operatic tour de force.
Act II is easily the best thing about this production. Even though Noel Bouley was unfortunately too ill to sing Scarpia, he walked it with unreserved malice, while Roland Wood lent his roaring baritone from the wings. Together they made for an alarmingly successful duo. Scarpia’s repulsive manhandling of Tosca was excellently choreographed, with the performances from all three singers reaching their dramatic peak. Top notes from Adam Smith as Cavaradossi soared throughout the London Coliseum.
Even though the orchestra could be heard to, very successfully, rush for recovery after Smith cut the occasional phrase short, he delivered an exceptional performance. This was particularly noticeable in Act III, when he realises Scarpia’s trap and his vision of his life with Tosca remains but a dream.
While Edmund Tracey’s translation felt a little clumsy (especially when he rhymed suspected and affected), it is by no means the worst Puccini translation. The Orchestra was handled well by conductor Leo Hussain, as was The ENO chorus, with some beautifully expressive Sul G moments on the strings adding intensity.
Between the time jumping costumes, an excessive amount of undereye makeup for Scarpia’s ancien règime bruisers, a very obvious political underpinning and what has to be the mother of all parapet dives, Loy’s production can feel like an operatic Assassin’s Creed. It gets a little obvious at times, but overall the result is an undeniably effective spectacle complemented by a clutch of stellar performances from the main cast.
Tosca plays at London Coliseum until 4 November and tickets are available here