Kensington Symphony Orchestra/Russell Keable – Tosca [Naomi Harvey, Geraint Dodd & Nicholas Folwell]

Tosca – Opera in three acts to a libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa & Luigi Illica after Victorien Sardou’s play La Tosca [Concert performance; sung in Italian]

Floria Tosca – Naomi Harvey
Mario Cavaradossi – Geraint Dodd
Scarpia – Nicholas Folwell
Angelotti – Matthew Hargreaves
Sacristan – William Robert Allenby
Spoletta – David Newman
Sciarrone / Jailer – Simon Lobelson
Shepherd – Dominic Williams

Twickenham Choral Society
Trinity Boys Choir

Kensington Symphony Orchestra
Russell Keable

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 14 May, 2012
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London

Russell KeableRussell Keable and the Kensington Symphony Orchestra – the distinguished, 56-year-old amateur orchestra – continued to put not a foot wrong in this scorching concert performance of Tosca. Half of the seats in St John’s had been removed to accommodate two choirs, a full-strength orchestra and soloists. Most of the singers were using their scores only for light reference, so there was a good deal of theatrical interaction, at a level that lifted the evening out of the ordinary.

As he has demonstrated in the past, Russell Keable has an inborn feel for pace, shape, colour and drama, and his players were completely up for his vivid reading, with a big, mobile string sound, terrific brass and woodwinds and some well-engineered bell-samples for the opening of Act Three. Puccini’s most emotionally manipulative opera takes no prisoners, and Keable’s unerring hold on it ensured that it went for the jugular.

The three main soloists complemented his blistering overview. Naomi Harvey, a seasoned Tosca, was magnificently imperious, but with that vital, humanising element of insecurity. She confidently rode the orchestra at full throttle, and if the top of her voice wasn’t always pitch-perfect, it had that admirable generosity of tone and spirit comparable to Gwyneth Jones’s memorable, luminous volatility. Rather than being the stand-alone number it so often is, Harvey’s delivery of ‘Vissi d’arte’ really hit the spot in terms of Tosca’s cornered despair, beautifully sung with great interior detail – and, mercifully, with no disruptive applause, as was also the case with the other big arias. In such a fiery performance, perhaps she could have made more of her cries of ‘muori’ to the stabbed Scarpia – but then she may have reasonably thought that less is more. Be that as it may, Harvey’s Tosca was a diva to be reckoned with.

Geraint Dodd as Cavaradossi was equally thrilling and heroic, with a moving ‘Recondita armonia’ serenading everything that is lost in ‘Vissi d’arte’, a stupendous ‘Vittoria’ that may have been heard in the House of Commons, and a sublimely intense ‘E lucevan le stelle’.

To begin with, Nicholas Folwell’s Scarpia could have used more inky blackness, but Act Two was excellent – as threatening, bleak and nihilistic as it should be, delivered with vivid, intelligent theatricality, and with Keable ramping up the tension to devastating effect. Matthew Hargreaves had great success with the desperate, driven Angelotti, and the duplicitous Sacristan was fully and sonorously sung by William Robert Allenby.

Everyone was willing this Tosca to succeed, which it did with a vengeance, hitting home like a punch in the solar plexus.

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