Opera Scotland

Tosca 2017English Touring Opera

Read more about the opera Tosca

This is the fourth Perth Festival for which we have been without the wonderful, intimate theatre while its rebuild is in progress. The worst result of this is that ETO's visits north have been woefully restricted. They have continued elsewhere with their enterprising repertoire policy that we had become used to over many years. But in Perth we have been limited to a single performance in the Concert Hall of a popular favourite - after The Magic Flute (2014), La bohème (2015) and Don Giovanni (2016), we now have Tosca. This is, of course, an excellent piece for Perth audiences to see, but it is hardly likely to attract patrons from the other cities, as only Perth is well placed to do, and as the rare works will have done in previous years. As it was, while this Tosca was still enjoyable, it seems to have been a G & S rarity, Patience, that was the big hit of the rest of the  tour.

In any event, the cast was promising, and for the most part delivered. under the experienced baton of Michael Rosewell. This opera is so beautifully orchestrated by Puccini that it seems a pity to lose any of it when a reduction is used. That is inevitable here, and it is generally tactfully done. The bells at the start of the last act came over well and there was some lovely solo work, especially from the woodwinds.

The Tosca tour was double cast, at least for the three major roles, The American soprano Paula Sides has now sung half a dozen roles in Perth and had always been an excellent performer, especially in several Mozart roles.  In the gap since she was last here the voice has clearly expanded - casting her as Tosca had seemed a surprising decision, but in the event she handled it brilliantly. She also played the character as much younger than usual - inexperienced and petulant, almost a teenager, at the start, rather than the standard temperamental prima donna figure we usually get. This was very interesting and worked well.

Baritone Craig Smith actually sang Scarpia in the last staging that ETO brought to Perth a decade ago. As then, he projects a fine, incisive voice into the theatre at the big climaxes. As an actor he seems a bit stiff at times - there was little sense of the dreadful chill that should descend on the church at his first entrance. He was altogether more lively in the second act - perhaps just delineating a contrast between the public and private characters.

The lead tenor, Australian Samuel Sakker, recently spent a few seasons at Covent Garden, as a member of the Jette Parker young artists' scheme. He clearly gained plenty of useful stage experience in a range of parts. His only previous Scottish appearance was a small role in the Opera Australia production of Brett Dean's Bliss at the 2010 Edinburgh Festival. His voice has developed an apparently effortless power and is of excellent quality. At present he doesn't use enough variation of tone, however. 'Recondita armonia' in Act 1 should really be sung more caressingly. In the last act he didn't seem to respond to the beautifully liquid clarinet solo at the start of 'E lucevan le stelle'. He is clearly a very promising talent, and it will be good to see it develop.

Scarpia's two henchmen, Spoletta (Aled Hall) and Sciarrone (Maciek O'Shea) were well differentiated. Directors and singers have scope to adjust the balance here - some stagings show them both as horrors, while others can reveal the odd glimmer of sympathy, even a hint that they don't enjoy the work. On this occasion, while it would be an exaggeration to suggest that Sciarrone was nice, Spoletta was definitely nasty - a bullet-headed thug every bit as unpleasant as his master. One slight quibble came from the fact that Aled Hall's voice was almost as heroic as the Cavaradossi's, so their brief exchanges were less clear than usual.

The production was played with one interval - just a short pause after Scarpia's murder. This worked well dramatically. However the unit set seemed very awkward at times - ramps and steps at odd angles. Once the choirs for the Te Deum were assembled they looked fine, with the youthful blonde Marchesa herself in attendance, but getting them there was not easy. However the lighting of the other scenes was effective. One oddity was having the Attavanti chapel accessed through a grille in the floor, more of a crypt perhaps - but then it became the torture chamber later on.

A very enjoyable performance, played to a good-sized and appreciative audience.

Performance Cast

Cesare Angelotti former Consul, now a political prisoner

Timothy Connor

Mario Cavaradossi a painter

Samuel Sakker


Matthew Stiff

Floria Tosca a famous singer

Paula Sides

Baron Scarpia Chief of Police

Craig Smith

Spoletta police agent

Aled Hall

Sciarrone police officer

Maciek O'Shea

Performance DatesTosca 2017

Map List

Perth Concert Hall | Perth

18 May, 19.30

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