Centred on the passions and pains of an operatic diva, Tosca gives Puccini permission to use his full, seductive box of tricks to suspend his audience’s disbelief. But compromise his scale and pacing, and shrink his glamorous orchestration (even to a not unevocative trio of piano, cello and clarinet), and you render his thriller less fail-safe.
This is the King’s Head Theatre’s last pub opera before its move to a new theatre next door. The company is going out with several bangs, since all three protagonists in this Tosca die by pistol – no knife or suicide leap here.
Director Adam Spreadbury-Maher updates the action to occupied Paris in 1944. Not the first to shift the action from its specific setting of Rome in 1800, he supports his case with a radical and resourceful adaptation of the text. Made in collaboration with his soprano, Becca Marriott, it cites the Normandy landings, Auschwitz and does some cutting and rearranging.
Despite numerous deft and inventive touches, the newly intimate drama – even when it gets violent – never quite achieves a theatrical kill, and Puccini’s sweeping scheme – so compelling and suspenseful in a full-blown production – ends up weighing the show down.
Willowy and highly strung, Marriott’s Tosca is sung with formidable point and accuracy, while Roger Paterson’s engagingly boyish Cavaradossi (here Cavaradain) is poetically voiced. As Scarpia, Michael Georgiou, marvellously moustachioed and blue-chinned and phrasing with flair, plays the sadistic Gestapo chief so cool that he forgets to be frightening.
Doubling as Angelotti (here Jacob Cohen) and Spoletta (Alexandre Villaplane), the energetic Thomas Isherwood unleashes a powerful baritone of exciting potential.