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Opera review: Tosca at the King’s Head Theatre

15:42 19 October 2012

Francis Church and Demelza Stafford in Tosca at the King's Head Theatre. Photo by Christopher Tribble

Francis Church and Demelza Stafford in Tosca at the King's Head Theatre. Photo by Christopher Tribble

Christopher Tribble

Puccini’s classic thriller is relocated to East Germany in OperaUpClose’s new production of Tosca

Tosca is one of my favourite operas. I love the rollercoaster ride of a story, the immensely powerful and dramatic score with some incredibly beautiful and emotional moments.

On one hand this makes me an ideal person to review OperaUpClose’s new production of Puccini’s popular opera at the King’s Head Theatre. The story, the music and characters are all very familiar. And, having seen an incredible production at the Royal Opera House last year, I know just how mesmerising a great staging can be.

On the other hand, do you lose too much of Puccini’s magic when you strip away the chorus, swap a full orchestra for a piano, cello and wind trio, split the different roles amongst just four cast members and try to cram all of the action into the back of a north London pub?

Instead of Rome in 1800, the action takes place in East Berlin in 1989. It’s a nice idea and provides a plausible explanation for Angelotti being a political prisoner and the repressive police state lead by the sadistic Scarpia.

Director Adam Spreadbury-Maher has written a brand new libretto to fit the setting, peppered with references to the Stasi and GDR leader Erich Honecker. It feels a little awkward in places, not least when Scarpia rubs a picture of Honecker on his crotch as he yearns for Tosca, but for the most part it works.

Francis Church as Scarpia is the strongest cast member; his Te Deum solo was surprisingly powerful despite lacking choral and orchestral accompaniment.

OperaUpClose’s Tosca is a curate’s egg. It aims high and, despite a few pleasant surprises, it doesn’t quite pull it off. This production showcases the creativity that a small company can bring to some of the great operas. But it also exposes the limitations of fringe productions performed with scant resources in small spaces.

* Tosca is at the King’s Heath Theatre in Upper Street, N1, until November 10.

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