King's Head Theatre
Until Sat Nov 10 2012
Time Out rating:
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Time Out says
Posted: Tue Oct 16 2012
The question is: How is director Adam Spreadbury-Maher, with a tiny stage and a cast of four, ever going to effect the mighty scale of Puccini's masterpiece – with its large soaring orchestral score, complete with choral 'Te Deum', set within a cathedral and castle towering over the River Tiber in Rome? Simple. He doesn't attempt to. Instead, in this collaboration between OperaUpClose and Malmö Opera, events take place in an East German light-bulb factory, to the accompaniment of a piano trio.
A plastic clock on the wall tells us it is October 16 1989, the pictures next to it are of Lenin and GDR leader Erich Honecker. The date is well chosen, for, with the benefit of hindsight, we know that the Stasi and its evil chief, Scarpia, are operating on borrowed time. This communist updating also allows for some tongue-in-cheek amendments, such as the sacristan (here, a feckless factory caretaker) substituting his prescribed rendition of 'The Angelus' with 'The Red Flag', and Cavaradossi's painting of the Madonna, now that of a revolutionary female worker.
Musically, in these reduced circumstances, the arrangement for piano, clarinet and cello works satisfactorily, although it can never emulate the majestic full orchestra, chorus and bells at the end of Act 1. Despite playing a little hesitantly, however, the trio does sometimes enhance the tension – in the manner of a silent-film accompaniment.
The star among the youthful cast is Becca Marriott, giving an intense and tuneful voice to the title character, Floria Tosca. Making her entrance in a fur coat, returning later in a tight red dress, she is utterly convincing as the feisty, petulant diva. As her lover, the counter-revolutionary Cavaradossi, Edward Hughes is ardent, although he could turn down his tenor a couple of notches as he is often ragged and on the verge of shouting. As Scarpia, robust baritone James Harrison doesn't seem quite evil enough, though is still mildly sinister as a bureaucrat abusing his power to accomplish his venal designs on the diva. Welding it all together dramatically is baritone Miles Horner, dashing on and off in the diverse roles of Angelotti, the caretaker and menacing Stasi thug, Spoletta.
An enjoyable and, at times, gripping production, the only thing missing was Tosca throwing herself off the Berlin Wall, rather than cutting her own throat, as she does here. Visceral stuff!