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Puccini Tosca at ENO

Tosca Amanda Echalaz
Cavaradossi Julian Gavin
Scarpia Anthony Michaels-Moore

Conductor Edward Gardner

Director Catherine Malfitano
Set Designer Frank Philipp Schlössmann
Costume Designer Gideon Davey
Lighting Designer
David Martin Jacques

The Coliseum, London, 18 May 2010


ENO's new Tosca is a broken-backed production, fairly traditional and marvellously observed in Catherine Malfitano's direction of the first Act action in the Sant'Andrea Church and in the crescendo to the fatal Act 2 climax at Scarpia's Palazzo Farnese apartment; but a warning image appears on screen in the last moment before this long evening's second interval - wise after the event, if you haven't seen it yet, you might think about going home at that point.

That image previewed Schlössmann's take on the Castel Sant'Angelo ramparts and the cosmos above. On the 3rd Act set, soldiers frolick around on what looks like a skateboarding ramp before a routine execution job.

Amanda Echalaz is persuaded to back-flip to eternity from it before bouncing back for her curtain call.

Never had I been so unmoved by the culmination of that political tragedy.

From Row D of the Dress Circle the first two Acts had been enthralling, with resplendent orchestral sonorities coming up to us, surtitles within comfortable vision, and thrilling singing especially from tenor Julian Gavin, and from Amanda Echalaz whom we had admired coping with the vagaries of contemporary directors' whims in Opera Holland Park's Tosca updated to 1968, and as ENO's Liu. The English version sounded comfortable, with good diction, but glancing at the surtitles still helped.

Anthony Michaels-Moore was duly chilling as Scarpia, with no need of the clichéd low spotlighting with huge shadows to denote menace (a gimmick previously castigated in ENO's Katya Kabanova).

Not for the first time, I regretted that the £5 programme book was again full of learned historical essays (e.g. by Mosco Carner who'd died in 1985) instead of recent production history of the opera. Who reads them through?

Despite our strictures, this was a Tosca 2/3 of which is not to be missed.

Peter Grahame Woolf

photos Robert Workman