Everybody Can! Opera is a mentoring platform produced by English National Opera’s (ENO) Harewood Artist Nadine Benjamin. It saw its second production at St James’s Church, Piccadilly, thrill and inspire an eager full-house of opera enthusiasts. The evening began with crowds of people inside the church and a queue reaching as far out as the streets of London. It almost seemed purposefully coordinated to tune the minds of its audience for a new production of Tosca set in present-day London.
St James’s Church seemed the ideal setting for this semi-staged production in what would have traditionally been set in an Italian chapel. Puccini composed his masterpiece with 1800s’ Rome in mind, yet the production director Rebecca Louise Dale attempts to deconstruct the enduring relevance of the opera and the part it plays today. Various themes found in Tosca resonate with us such as the abuse of power or more specifically the #MeToo movement.
Often the physical structure of churches can cause sound to reverberate and echo across the room, however, this didn’t seem to be the case. Conductor William Conway and a special orchestral arrangement of 14 musicians, by Francis Griffin, gave a ravishing and dramatic performance of Puccini’s score. From the first note to the moments in between arias and scenes, one could tell Puccini was a musical mastermind in exploring drama and tragedy within a piece. Conway and the Reduced Opera Orchestrations brought this pertinent point to the audience’s attention.
In Louise Dale’s production, London is criminal and corrupt, yet love still manages to flourish between two innocents: Floria Tosca and Cavaradossi. Nadine Benjamin sheds light on the true character of Tosca, particularly Tosca’s naivety from jealousy, insecurity and love luster. With a bold presence on stage she charmed the audience with her exquisite voice. Moving between each top note she did not falter. She also won an applause for her unique rendition of Vissi d’arte, which was emotionally-charged and beguiling. Costume designer Sylvia Spyratou provided gorgeous red and green dresses to heighten Benjamin’s depiction of the songstress.
Alongside Benjamin, Borja Gómez-Ferrer’s voice was taut with tenderness. Singing as the romantic Cavaradossi, his performance was engaging and highly controlled. He never seemed to overstretch his voice or tone. For a first-timer who has never seen or heard of Gómez-Ferrer before, I would be keen to see him sing the roles of Rodolfo (La bohème) or Don Ottavio (Don Giovanni) as his compelling performance seemed worth hearing again.
True to the original synopsis, Scarpia is chief of the police. David Durham did a tremendous job portraying a terrifying and power-hungry Scarpia. Even though he was slightly weaker on the vocal side, theatrically he was spot on and his stage presence was unquestionably strong. Durham’s gang-like police chief had the company of skillful singers Jonathan Cooke and Nicholas George, performing as his intimidating lackeys to carry out his dirty deeds. Dressed in London Metropolitan gear, Cooke and George brought the story closer to home. Simon Butteriss’s Sacristan was touching and lighthearted in the first act. Smaller roles such as Angelotti and the shepherd girl were executed by fine singers, Nico Laruina and Danae Eleni.
Everybody Can! Opera’s production demonstrates how grand operas, just like Tosca, can be experienced outside of the opera house and is accessible to many. This wonderful performance spells out the glossy quality of its inspiring performers and singers. Don’t miss out on Nadine Benjamin’s next production from Everybody Can! Opera. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another couple of years before they release dates.
Tosca: Puccini’s little Shocker showed at St James’s Church, Piccadilly, on Friday 18 January. For more information on Nadine Benjamin, please click here. And for more information on Nadine’s mentoring platform (Everybody Can!), please go here.