TOSCA at the Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol

In a setting as intimate as the Tobacco Factory provides, the role of the director in an opera becomes arguably, more critical. In what amounts to a thrust (or three quarters round) stage there is no hiding place for the performers; voice alone will not do and acting skills must be up to snuff.  Richard Studer’s job as director is not made any easier by having to deal with a melodrama in which, as is typical in much opera, unrealistic plotting and exaggerated emotional curves are in tension with the need to accommodate the heightened emotional truth that the performers simultaneously draw from, and serve in, the score.  Nor is it made easier by his and conductor, Jonathan Lyness’s decision to make no concession to the relatively modest size of the venue (in opera terms) and go full bore at the emotional and dramatic core of the piece. In this, Opera Project has eased the director’s task by casting, in the three main characters, singers with considerable acting gifts.

Nicholas Folwell as that odious voluptuary, Baron Scarpia, lacks for nothing in that department. Consumed with perverted love and a ruthless desire to possess, Floria Tosca, his aria at the end of act one is a display of riveting passivity as, eyes ablaze, Scarpia unfolds his plans. It was undoubtedly as mark of delighted respect that a section of the audience hissed him genially at the curtain call.

A nimble and articulate, reduced orchestra, under Jonathan Lyness, sits, in effect, on stage and in this respect seemed to function at times almost as a classical Greek chorus, addressing the audience directly and commenting on the action. The particular configuration allows for the different ‘voices’ of the orchestra to shine with their own personality whilst losing nothing in powerful effect as the opera alternates between the dramatic and the lyrical.

A crystalline tenor in Robyn Lyn Evans as Tosca’s lover, Cavaradossi, brings a smooth variation in colour to the grand dramatic moments whilst providing a clarity and tenderness to the more intimate and contemplative passages.

Mari Wyn Williams as Floria Tosca, the object of love and dangerous desire, has a warmth of tone well suited to the ‘chamber’ production. At the same time she exhibits the strength of character of someone who, whilst she lives for her art and love, (as described in the beautifully sung aria, ‘I lived for art’) is yet capable of murder in defense of her honour.

This joint production between the Tobacco Factory and Opera Project may of necessity be reduced in scale, but reduced in ambition and dramatic effect it certainly is not.   ★★★★☆   Graham Wyles   30th September 2017