Some of the criticisms of opera are that it’s too serious, a bit po-faced and not for the ordinary man in the street and those doing the criticising could have a point. However, that couldn’t be said for Tête à Tête’s Toscatastrophe! (try saying that after a glass of wine or two) which was performed last night as part of the Cubitt Sessions in Lewis Cubitt Square, King’s Cross.
After a very funny introduction from Colin Carmichael, this cut-down version of Tosca (forty-five minutes as opposed to the usual two and a half hours plus) got underway as the excellent Ronald Samm as Caravadossi took to the stage and wowed the audience with his superb tenor voice. He was soon joined by the equally excellent Gweneth-Ann Rand as these two marvellous singers complemented each other perfectly. Not long afterwards, they were joined by the splendid baritone of Keel Watson as the evil Scarpia. This was “proper” opera singing from the trio as they proceeded to sing most of the opera’s major arias (and in the original Italian) such as “Recondita Armonia”, “Va Tosca”, “E Lucevan Le Stelle” and “O Dolci Mani” as the sad story of love and jealousy unfolded.
So, where’s the fun in that I hear you say? Well whilst the three principles dressed in the costumes of the time, sang their hearts out, the aforementioned Colin Carmichael, played all the other parts dressed in his street clothes and a silly hat. His Angelotti hid not in a chapel (there was no set) but in a large wheelie basket. He later popped up to give us irreverent up-dates on the plot as well as being part of the firing squad at the end along with Alice Cheung (who according to the programme was playing “Herself”)!
As for the “orchestra”, this consisted of Timothy Burke on keyboards (Carmichael introduced it as a cheap Casio as they’d lost all their sponsorship), violin, guitar and whatever else came to hand. There were also some rubber chickens being squeezed and I think there may have been a swanee whistle at one point. There were also a couple of recorder players – Bill Bankes-Smith who played a number of instruments including ukulele and Sarah Playfair and Cheung played bits and pieces of percussion too.
The question I was asking myself as the evening progressed was Bankes-Smith (who also directed) going to be brave enough to do the big climax at the end of Act One: “Te Deum” which usually has an enormous chorus, a large orchestra and big church bells? And he did, utilising the “orchestra” augmented by three bell ringers in monk’s habits. The chorus consisted of the two page turners who left their posts to go into the auditorium and I think some members of the front row of the audience.
There was a lot of fun being had by all and the three principles seemed to be having the time of their lives freed from the constraints of conventional opera (there was also a bit of disco dancing at one point and a large balloon was popped to simulate the guns of the firing squad. But there was one hurdle still to jump – and jump it literally usually is in most productions – how was Tosca going to commit suicide by leaping from the battlements of (an imaginary) Castel Sant’Angelo? No problem of course for this creative team. Carmichael swapped his silly hat for Tosca’s wig (Tosca put on the silly hat) and jumped into the large wheelie bin and pretended to fall off an imaginary castle wall!
If this sounds like a lot of fun it was. The company had to put up with the threat of rain, a gusting wind, planes flying overhead and yapping dogs but nothing phased them and it was forty-five minutes of wonderful irreverence and entertainment whether you like opera or not.
Tête à Tête bill themselves as the “future of opera” – let’s hope for all our sakes that they are.
Review by Alan Fitter
Join Tête à Tête for nightmare evening as we massacre another classic. Following our disastrous Bohème in 2017, Timothy Burke creates another lousy orchestration to perform with totally inept Bill Bankes-Jones. A shambolic production where stellar singers Gweneth-Anne Rand (Tosca), Ronald Samm (Cavaradossi) and Keel Watson (Scarpia) do their best to survive the mayhem. Will Tosca leap to her death off the Castel Sant’Angelo? Will magnificent singing be ruined by hideously ear-splitting recorder playing? There is only one way to find out…
Music: Puccini, arr. Burke
Words: Illica and Giacosa
Tête à Tête
Friday 10th August, 18:30 – 19:15