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September, 22

English National Opera returns with splendid Tosca performance

English National Opera returns with splendid Tosca performance

This was a semi-staged performance, with the singers sharing the stage with the orchestra and therefore very limited in their movements. Instead of leaping dramatically to her death from a roof parapet at the end, Tosca shot herself. An onstage parapet would clearly have been an unacceptable Health and Safety risk.

Tosca was beautifully sung by Welsh soprano Natalya Romaniw, leading a very strong cast which included English baritone Roland Wood in gloriously villainous form as the evil police chief Scarpia. He met his end with a bullet too, probably because the usual stabbing by Tosca might have got in the way of the violins.

Having the singers microphoned and the sound broadcast through loudspeakers was not the English National Opera's usual way of doing things, but it worked very well.

The quality of sound was surprisingly good and the orchestra took full advantage of their uplifted status, onstage instead of being hidden away in an orchestra pit.

The conductor, Richard Farnes, did an excellent job encouraging the players to belt out Puccini's great music, showing how powerful it truly is.

This newfound equality of singers and musicians was a real treat.

This Tosca was part of the new South Facing Festival at Crystal Palace Bowl. Limited to only two performances, it seemed a curious way to announce the English National Opera's return, but artistically was a triumph (though the inadequate catering arrangements during the interval led to chaotically long queues).

In October, we shall see the English National Opera returning to its normal home at London's Coliseum, with a full and excellently diverse programme featuring Philip Glass's enigmatic Satyagraha, followed by the completely unenigmatic HMS Pinafore by Gilbert and Sullivan, and the first ever production of Wagner's Valkyrie.

Photo: Lloyd Winters
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