Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Tosca review – belt it from the battlements

15 June 2024

Tosca’s kiss strikes again at The Grange Festival.


Francesca Tiburzi (Photo: Craig Fuller)

It’s quite strange to reflect that nowadays, a production of Tosca which features shades-sporting, nattily-suited heavies and vaguely contemporary settings, should seem like a classic, but so it is. This one, by Christopher Luscombe, features sets by Simon Higlett which provide a tasteful backdrop to a lot of park’n’bark, but with many neat directorial touches and an outstanding new voice in the person of Andrew Manea’s Scarpia.

The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra play like fanatics under Francesco Cilluffo, giving us the whole armoury from bold, overwhelming brass to tender, reflective support for the singers – this was elevated playing under a charismatic conductor. It was a pity that such charisma did not extend to the Cavaradossi of Andrés Presno, who is played as a yobbish bloke rather than an aristo turned Voltairean – indeed, there were murmurs that some would opt for the Scarpia over this character, whose singing certainly filled the house but lacked subtlety until his final moments, when ‘O dolce mani’ found him in much more tender form.

Francesca Tiburzi is a traditional Tosca who can’t help but let rip in her moments of rage or passion – it was a pity that the first act had her costumed like the Queen Mother out of Marks & Spencer – and she certainly was a Diva of the first order. ‘Vissi d’arte’ was finely sung without extraneous sobbing, and in her final moments she evoked all the heightened terror and determination of one who has been betrayed. Her nemesis in the form of Manea’s smoothiechops of a Scarpia was not a pantomime baddie but a determined official used to getting his way, and his singing was by far the most distinguished of the evening, his cultivated baritone not as comfortable in snarling mode as that of many other Scarpias, but persuasive nonetheless.

“…this was elevated playing under a charismatic conductor”


Andrew Manea (Photo: Craig Fuller)

The supporting cast had been well chosen, especially Darren Jeffery’s very well sung and characterful Sacristan and Vladimir-Mihai Sima’s subtly smiling Spoletta, and David Hall had brought out the charming naughtiness of the boys of The Grange Festival Children’s Chorus without making them sound twee. William Vann achieved splendours with The Grange Festival Chorus, filling the auditorium with a glorious ‘Te Deum’.

The designs opted for credible surroundings rather than too much glitz, with the opening church scene an entirely believable setting and Scarpia’s office evoking the lair of a corrupt banker. The final scenario on the battlements was cleverly done – that changing guard, evoking the passage of time, might have been the opening moments of Hamlet – and the fatal ‘jump’ was shocking.

A full house cheered the cast to the rafters – it has become a tradition to stage a crowd-pleaser after a more unusual first-night choice, and the reception given to both this and L’incoronazione di Poppea certainly justifies that policy.

• Details of upcoming performances can be found here.

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Tosca review – belt it from the battlements