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Friday, 22 November, 2002, 16:52 GMT
Tosca revives English National Opera
Peter Coleman-Wright as Scarpia and Cheryl Barker as Tosca, photo by Alastair Muir
Tosca takes a more traditional route for the ENO

The embattled English National Opera opens its new season with Tosca but can Puccini turn around the ENO's fortunes after poor reviews and the loss of its artistic director, Nicholas Payne, earlier this year?

Stung by rumours of financial strife and criticism of its radical offerings, the ENO declared it would now play it safe.

Puccini's Tosca will be followed by a revival of Berlioz's The Trojans, as the company often perceived as the poor relation in the opera world tries to raise its standing amongst its audience.

And true to their word, this classic production was played almost entirely straight down the middle.

Peter Coleman-Wright as Scarpia, photo by Alastair Muir
Peter Coleman-Wright steals the show with his strong baritone
There was no sign of the naked flesh, homosexual rape and satanic rituals, which drew such scathing reviews from audiences and critics alike earlier in the year.

In fact for once, this period piece actually seemed to be played out in a period setting.

Peter Coleman-Wright excelled as the evil Baron Scarpia, and from the moment he first stomped into the church, he captivated the audience.

His Scarpia prowled around Michael Vale's wonderfully macabre set with such menace that it would have been fitting to add a Darth Vader-style score to accompany his movements.

His baritone was also spot on, strong and powerful, and was such a strong performance it probably stole the show from the returning Cheryl Barker (Tosca).

The high point of the production undoubtedly came in the second act, when Scarpia and Tosca meet in his chambers - again a dark and forbidding setting.


It is further proof that when the ENO is not trying to shock people into the auditorium, it can put on a polished and extravagant show

The pace, both artistically and in the standard of the performance, was really picked up, aided by the natural light effect casting some sinister shadows against the backdrop.

The interplay between Coleman Wright (Scarpia) and Cheryl Barker (Tosca) was extremely powerful during their scenes, culminating in a vibrant solo from Barker that drew great applause from the packed house.

In the final act, the passion between John Hudson (Cavardossi) and Cheryl Barker (Tosca) also became entirely believable as they declared their love for each other and plotted an escape.

Hudson put in a particularly convincing performance during their scenes together. His tenor was deep and powerful, while his lonely lament surely left some of those attending with misty eyes.

But like any opening night, it was not without the odd hiccup or two.

First night nerves seemed to take hold during the first act, when it seemed that the orchestra and the actors were not always singing from the same songbook.

Fortunately things improved afterwards, although some small touches, like the B-movie mannerisms of Scarpia's henchmen, should have been avoided.

All in all, this Tosca was far better for being slightly more traditional.

It is further proof that when the ENO is not trying to shock people into the auditorium, it can put on a polished and extravagant show.

Tosca could go some way to repairing the relationship between the ENO and its most valuable asset - the public.

Tosca is on at the English National Opera on 23/26/29/30 November 2002, 10/13/19/21/26/28 March and 1/4/8/10/12/15/17 April 2003.

See also:

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