I have to confess that Tosca is my favourite opera of all time. I’ve seen it a number of times over the years mainly at the Royal Opera House where I once sat in the most expensive stalls seats (I didn’t pay!) and a spectacular production at Earl’s Court back in 1991. All of the productions had vast orchestras and a cast of what seemed like hundreds – Tosca is big, bold, brash and very Italian.
So, it was with some trepidation that I ventured down Upper Street to the tiny King’s Head Theatre to see a stripped-down production in English of Puccini’s masterpiece with a cast of four and an “orchestra” of three! But my fears were totally unfounded as this is a superb production and everyone involved should be congratulated on turning a large, spectacular opera into a wonderful chamber piece.
The action has been transposed from Rome in 1800 to Paris in 1944 and instead of occupation by the French, we’re now in Nazi-occupied Paris. Cavaradain (Caravadossi in the original) is still a painter, working not in an enormous church but in a small Parisian café. Angelotti is now Jacob Cohen, a Jewish resistance fighter hiding from Chief of Police Scarpia (as in the original) – and Tosca is of course still the fiery, tempestuous diva Tosca!
On a thrust stage stands a simple set of a table and chairs and the painting of the beautiful Marie Cohen (Jacob’s sister). Cohen greets his old friend Cavaradain and asks him to help him hide from his pursuers. Tosca then arrives and Cohen hides under a table and there’s some humourous bits of business that replace the light-heartedness the Sacristan brings to the original. The plot then follows the original musical to its sad conclusion.
After a short interval, act two is set in Scarpia’s office which for some reason was bathed in smoke from the smoke machine above the stage. The set with its forties radio playing Tosca’s concert in the background, is dark, gloomy and claustrophobic and is a superb setting for the very dark, gloomy second act. This is superbly staged with the sexual overtones of Scarpia’s desire for Tosca to the fore.
The third act is supposedly set under the Eiffel Tower which isn’t the easiest thing to convey in such a small space especially with the corpse of Scarpia laying on a table at the back of the stage. It probably wasn’t practical to have a second interval but I felt the staging of this act wasn’t as plausible as the other two. There was however a nice touch when the front row was given lots of papers at the interval and asked to throw them on cue to simulate the dropping of propaganda leaflets from allied planes onto Paris. If I had one other small criticism is that for some reason the programme devotes a full page to describing the two guns that are used in the production neither of which gave much a bang – more of a little pop!
All in all, this production is a triumph. Becca Marriott as Tosca is superb with a wonderful tone to her powerful soprano voice; she also with Director Adam Spreadbury-Maher wrote the libretto. Roger Paterson as Cavaradain gave the character a youthful freshness and Michael Georgiou was a smarmy, sly and evil Scarpia. Although it was a cast of just four, there are five characters with Thomas Isherwood giving great voice to two very different characters – Jacob Cohen and Nazi henchman Alexandre Villaplane. And whilst a group of three musicians – piano, cello and woodwind, can’t replicate an orchestra of sixty or so, they did a fine job of accompanying the singers.
The King’s Head are deservedly lauded for their opera productions and Tosca must be one of the best. This is the very last opera they’ll be performing here before they move in the next few months to a brand-new space around the corner. I look forward to seeing more King’s Head opera productions there in the future.
Review by Alan Fitter
Paris. August, 1944. As the Second World War rages on, lovers Tosca and Cavaradossi give refuge to a political prisoner and find themselves ensnared in the machinations of the tyrannical head of the Paris Gestapo, Scarpia. As Charles De Gaulle’s liberation movement advances and US troops tighten their net around the Nazi occupiers, everything Tosca holds dear is about to be torn apart.
A searing thriller of power and passion, this modern retelling takes the timeless tale and reimagines it at the heart of the twentieth century’s defining conflict. With stirring melodies and a brand-new libretto in English by Becca Marriott and Adam Spreadbury-Maher, performed in the intimate surroundings of the King’s Head Theatre, this is Tosca as you’ve never seen it before.
Composer Giacomo Puccini
Libretto Becca Marriott & Adam Spreadbury-Maher
Director Adam Spreadbury-Maher
Musical Director Panaretos Kyriatzidis
Designer Becky-Dee Trevenen
Cast A Becca Marriott – Tosca
(Press Night – 2nd October) Roger Paterson – Cavaradossi
Michael Georgiou – Scarpia
Cast B Philippa Boyle – Tosca
(Press Night – 11th October) Martin Lindau – Cavaradossi
Przemyslaw Baranek – Scarpia
Both Casts Edmund Danon – Jacob Cohen (Angelotti) &
Alexandre Villaplane (Spoletta)
Performance Dates Wednesday 27th September – Saturday 28th October 2017
Monday – Saturday, 7.00pm
Saturday Matinee, 3.00pm [28th October only]
[excludes 28th, 30th September, 3rd, 5th October]
Press Nights Cast A – Monday 2nd October
Cast B – Wednesday 11th October
Running Time TBC
King’s Head Theatre, 115, Upper Street, London, N1 1QN