In little more than a year, Wasfi Kani has built a new opera house at a new venue in Surrey – a 700-seat theatre which stole the show on the festival’s first night in its new premises.
Not all of the incidentals in Peter Relton’s production of Tosca worked, and the show overran considerably, but by any standards the auditorium is an outstanding success and the whole venture a prodigious achievement.
Puccini’s melodramatic thriller was chosen as the opening work, and though there were undeniably good elements to the evening there were also disappointments.
Designed by Francis O’Connor, Relton’s staging brings the action forward from 1800 to Fascist Italy – a well-worn piece of time-travel by now. The architectural fragments of O’Connor’s set for the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle nevertheless look meagre, though the final scene atop the platform of Castel Sant’Angelo conjures genuine atmosphere.
Yet as a dramatic whole the production feels conventional and short on tension. Part of the problem is right at the centre: Russian soprano Ekaterina Metlova is a tepid Tosca, a skilful singer but lacking in temperament and magnetism.
Roland Wood offers a more solid Scarpia, vocally forthright and vivid, if short of some of the essential menace of Puccini’s super-villain.
It’s in the evening’s star turn – the appearance of international tenor Joseph Calleja as Cavaradossi – that the performance really heats up. On magnificent vocal form, he suggests the painter’s devil-may-care impulsiveness and makes something unforgettable out of his last-act aria.
Among the smaller roles, Scarpia’s henchmen – Adam Tunnicliffe’s Spoletta and Lancelot Nomura’s Sciarrone – form a sinister duo.
In the pit Gianluca Marciano conducts the BBC Concert Orchestra in an efficient account of the score that allows some of its potency to register. But the evening is unsurprisingly dominated by the new opera house itself – and quite rightly so.