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Puccini – Tosca


Angelotti – Simon Wilding

Sacristan – John Lofthouse

Cavaradossi – Sean Ruane
Amanda Echalaz (pictured)

Scarpia – Nicholas Garrett

Spoletto – Benjamin Segal


Conductor – Philip Thomas

Director – Stephen Barlow

Designer – Yannis Thavoris


Opera Holland Park 3 July 2008



 I love Tosca – it was the first opera I ever saw and I still regard it with that special kind of nostalgia one reserves for first loves.  The scene for the Holland Park version was set in 1968 with an exterior of San Andrea, showing a doorway and wall plastered with political posters and epitaphs.  In the forefront an ancient Fiat Cinquecento rested, seemingly redundant but in fact an important prop for the action.  Cavaradossi sang his first aria, then it became apparent that he was a pavement artist!  Sean Ruane took this in his stride and was properly dismissive of the Sacristan – John Lofthouse as obstreperous as most of his kind.  Amanda Echalaz appeared, disguised as Sophia Loren; this was obviously Tosca in Dolce Vita mode.


The arrival of Nicholas Garrett as Scarpia confirmed this impression – young, smart suited and with trademark “Marcello M” dark glasses.  He interrupted the joyful scene with his reproaches to the Sacristan but the updated plot did not make it clear what sort of victory was being celebrated.  Later references to Napoleon and Marengo did not clarify the reasons for Scarpia’s hostility to Cavaradossi, nor indeed why he should face arrest.


Setting aside these petty details, the orchestra seemed rather lethargic – Puccini’s heady mix of politics, religion and sex was not coming to the boil.  There was a lack of the menace which should always accompany Scarpia; in the second act he ate his supper outside the church at the “Farnese Bar”, and seemed indifferent to the presence of Tosca in her prima donna finery.  This was the point, however, at which the performance began to catch fire – the emotional nature of Tosca brought to the fore by the fine singing of Amanda Echalaz, particularly in her aria.


Meanwhile Cavaradossi was being tortured in the back of the “Farnese Trattoria”, the sort of experience familiar to low-budget tourists no doubt.  In these cosy surroundings Tosca decides to save her lover by murdering Scarpia, which she does efficiently – no crucifix or candles, only a hasty cigarette.  This was in keeping with the stripped-down style of this production, but it deprived the audience of that magical melodrama that brings down the curtain at the end of Act 2.


Act 3, sometimes an anti-climax, here proved the high point of the evening; both tenor and soprano found the passion in their music which had previously been lacking.  Cavaradossi was locked in the ancient Fiat by Scarpia’s hit-men while Tosca lurked in the shadows.  The slow funeral march preceding the execution sounded more poignant than ever in the deserted piazza.  There was no firing squad of soldiers – only a solitary gunman shooting at the car, Tosca despairing of releasing her lover.  Casually, one of Scarpia’s thugs empties petrol over the car – distraught Tosca climbs onto the roof, there is the flicker of a flame then a sensational explosion.  A shocking end to the opera, just as Puccini intended.


Stuart Jenkins