Operaupclose make decisions with their productions that can go both ways. Does the four actor cast diminish or intensify the work? Does the relocation of the action from Rome 1800 to East Germany 1989 lose Italian passion or gain German ruthlessness? Does the shuffling in and out of the Ryanairesque seats for two intervals dilute the narrative or give the audience a welcome break before the next torrent of emotions sweeps them away? Well, I'm a fan of this company, who have done as much as any to bring the glories of operas to skeptical types (like me) and enriched our lives accordingly. So I say the decisons are right!
Sung in English using grim functional sets that reflect the grim functional character of the DDR in the 80s, touched up photographs of a gimlet-eyed Lenin and a Mugabe-spectacled Erich Honecker hang where The Madonna and The Christ would in the Italian church of the original Tosca. A painter, Cavaradossi, breaks off from working on a portrait of a platinum blonde factory worker furthering the Party's interests, to shelter his old buddy Angelotti who has broken out of a Stasi prison. Enter Tosca herself - all heels, hips and hooters - demanding that Cavaradossi visit her later after her set singing in a local club, when she'll show him what she can do with the heels, hips and hooters. While tempting the painter, she learns of his hiding of Angelotti and is later tricked/coerced by police chief Scarpia into giving Angelotti away. He then gives her a terrible choice to make in order to save her Cavaradossi. It doesn't end well.
Adam Spreadbury-Maher's productions always place a huge burden on the cast and, fortunately, they are up to the job as singers and actors. Sheridan Edward is an unlikely object of desire at first glance, but he brings a charisma to his fearless Cavaradossi - a man of principle sinking in a corrupt state. Steven East's plays Scarpia's sidekick/enforcer Spoletta with a soulless pleasure in his administration of pain, and doubles up as Angelotti in desperate flight. Francis Church is chilling as Stasi man Scarpia, all "business as usual" even as Honecker's regime is toppling. Demelza Stafford's Tosca is constantly torn between men, between right and wrong, between action and inaction. Her voice bucks and twists reflecting her heart, but never loses the clarity the English libretto demands.
Tosca is a emotional rollercoaster ride in a space that brings the singing and music (piano, clarinet and cello under the direction of Elspeth Wilkes) as up close as the prodcution company's name promises. Perhaps traditionalists may prefer the sweep of an opera house, but there's much to be said for concentration of music and action a small stage compels. If you've never seen opera live, this is a perfect place to start.
Tosca is at The King's Head until 10 November.