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Puccini to perfection

The Kings Head Theatre’s staging of Tosca proves that small-scale, chamber opera can deliver

05 October, 2017 — By Sebastian Taylor

Roger Paterson, Thomas Isherwood, Michael Georgiou and Becca Marriott in Tosca. PHOTO: Nick Rutter

At last, a chamber opera that really works. All too often, there’s something wrong with operas staged in rooms above pubs, small theatres or experimental spaces.

Relocation of productions to different settings lacks conviction or amplified music is far too loud or young singers are simply not up to scratch.

Not so with Puccini’s Tosca being staged by the Kings Head Theatre until the end of this month.

It works well on most fronts, delivering Puccini’s tumultuous masterpiece in spades. Relocation from Rome in 1800 to Paris 1944 is convincing, Scarpia being chief of police in the final days before the liberation of Paris.

The first act takes place in the Café de Flore, the second in Scarpia’s office and the final act under the Eiffel Tower.

Puccini’s magical, tune-rich music is played to perfection by a pianist, clarinettist and cellist.
What’s more, there’s no amplification so you can actually hear the words provided in a new translation by Becca Marriott and Adam Spreadbury-Maher.

Becca Marriott sings a dramatic Tosca; Roger Paterson is striking as Cavaradain, aka Cavaradossi; and Michael Georgiou is a Gastapol-like police chief. A touch of verisimilitude is replacement of Scarpia’s thug Spoletto by notorious real-life Parisian criminal – Nazi collaborator Alexandre Villaplane responsible for numerous killings and executions.

Tosca kills Scarpia not with a knife but with Scarpia’s pistol, an authentic reproduction of the German Luger, as he embarks on his final assault of her person.

First, she fires a pistol shot in his groin then, after he pleads for her to end his life, she shoots him in the head. The first shot is manslaughter; the second is definitely murder.

• Tosca is at Kings Head Theatre, Upper Street, Islington, N1, until October 27. 020 7226 8561, www.kingsheadtheatre.com

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