This Tosca deserves an opera Oscar for a cast that acts as powerfully as it sings in an updated classic story of jealousy, desire, hate and betrayal, as well as loyalty and overwhelming love.
Puccini used all the emotions guaranteed to ensure that more than a century since it was written, this is still one of the most often performed operas in the world today, with moving arias that fix themselves in our heads and send us singing, sobbing and humming homeward.
This production is sung in English and directed and conducted by Jonathan Butcher, who has been with Surrey Opera for 38 years, so he is very very good. The storyline is dramatic but uncomplicated, making it a watchable experience for holidaymakers as well as the many dedicated fans of this talented company.
The action has been set in 1930s Italy, which is under the Fascist rule of Mussolini. In Rome, police chief Scarpia and his black-shirted henchmen rule by terror and the firing-squad.
The story opens with political prisoner Angelotti (James Schouten) on-the-run and seeking sanctuary in a city church, where artist Cavaradossi is working on a painting of Mary Magdalene.
The cruel Scarpia is in pursuit of both the escaped prisoner and the famous singer Floria Tosca, but with very different intentions for them both.
The artist, who adores Tosca, is forever distracted from his painting by initially dealing with her jealousy over a suspected rival for his love, helping the prisoner to a safe hiding place and his eventual arrest and torture as an accomplice.
Things go from bad to very much worse, with the only light relief arriving in the form of the Sacristan (Robert Trainer) who reveals a liking for red wine and bananas as he goes about his duties in the church.
What makes this production special is that on the opening night, the cast acted every bit as superbly as they sang, with Nicholas Warden as the monstrous Scarpia, relishing the role as a vicious and evil presence. Countering that image Andrew Bain, the tender and handsome Cavaradossi and Laura Hudson as the colourful and passionate Tosca are totally convincing – what a lovely couple.
The three principals alternate with Joanna Weeks as Tosca, Ben Thapa as Cavaradossi and Tim Baldwin as Scarpia. They are supported by a splendid chorus and orchestra, and a simple set managed by Ray Locke. This is an opera for everyone.