Grange Park Opera at Cadogan Hall – Puccini’s Tosca

Tosca – Opera in three acts to a libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa & Luigi Illica based on Victorien Sardou’s play La Tosca [sung in Italian with English surtitles]

Tosca – Mairéad Buicke
Cavaradossi – Jesús León
Scarpia – Njabulo Madlala
Sacristan – Philip Spendley
Angelotti – Charles Rice
Spoleto – Edward Lee
Sciarrone – Laurence Meikle

Chorus & Orchestra of Nevill Holt
Gianluca Marciano

Lindsay Posner – Director
Peter Relton – Revival director
Warren Letton – Lighting

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 22 September, 2011
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

This single London performance in Grange Park Opera’s Rising Stars programme was based on the company’s 2010 summer season staging. In Peter Relton’s revival of Tosca this year, it was performed at Grange Park’s northern venue, Nevill Holt in Leicestershire, and, presumably much reduced production-wise, brought to London to show off these Rising Stars, all of them cast from strength.

The Irish soprano Mairéad Buicke – she was recently a fine Musetta in ENO’s Jonathan Miller La bohème – took a while to warm up as Tosca , but once she hit her stride in Act One and got into the spirit of manipulating her lover Cavaradossi, she was a compelling, vulnerable, larger-than-life diva. She was firing on all cylinders in her Act Two confrontation with Scarpia, and the way she prepared us for an eloquent, puzzled, tragic ‘Vissi d’arte’ was masterly. Her voice has drama and bite, she moved easily in the Italian fascist 1940s’ setting, and her sang-froid in the Act Three description of Scarpia’s death was chillingly impressive. With her strong looks and imperious bearing, Buicke gave us a potentially complex Tosca not to be messed with.

Njabulo Madlala, the South African baritone, brought a similar focus and intelligence to Scarpia. He was excellent at projecting a psychotic stillness, although he needed to be a bit more animated to define amoral violence and destructive, sullen lust. The centre of Madlala’s voice is superbly controlled and characterful; it just missed the baleful darkness in his lower register that could make Rome tremble. Still, he was brilliantly threatening in his Act One exchanges with the Sacristan, impressively cruel in Act Two, and his murder went very well.

I’d heard of the Mexican tenor Jesús León, but not heard him. He was certainly worth the wait. His Cavaradossi gripped from the very first, and he established a thrilling chemistry with both Tosca and Scarpia. ’Recondita armonia’ was seductively abandoned and lyrical, he was superbly dramatic and realistic in the horrors of Act Two, and sang an ‘E lucevan’ to die for. His voice is even, with a terrific, flexible top, and he’s a good, and good-looking, actor.

In the smaller roles, Charles Rice made his mark as the hunted Angelotti, and there was a well-drawn Sacristan from Philip Spendley that set up the soon-to-be-broken innocence of Act one very efficiently.

Gianluca Marciano had conducted the performances at Grange Park and Nevill Holt and he worked wonders with the small orchestra, ranged diagonally at the back of the stage, behind the singers. We were in no doubt of the score’s savagery and passion. The evening packed quite a punch.

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