Tosca, Opera Project at Tobacco Factory Bristol

OPERA Project returned to Bristol’s Tobacco Factory earlier this week with its staging, in English, of one the most powerful works in the repertoire – Tosca.

Following the company’s hugely successful production of that other Puccini favourite Madam Butterfly in 2014, this co-production with the venue is both gripping and compelling, the familiar if complex story of love, lust, anger, jealousy, despair, torture and murder being delivered with considerable strength.

As Floria Tosca herself, Welsh soprano Mari Wyn Williams gave a highly charged performance – a big voice which she used to particularly good effect in those scenes (of which there are many) which called for the greatest passion.  The murder of Scarpia toward the conclusion of Act II for example was executed with real venom and loathing which gave an extra intensity to the equally dramatic but pianissimo placing of the candles and crucifix that followed.   Generally, however, I felt that Ms Williams could, at times, have reined it in rather more, both in terms of timbre and volume.  The Tobacco Factory is not a big venue, and with only a small orchestra for accompaniment, there was probably a little more scope for restraint.  This said, the most famous aria in the whole opera, Vissi d’arte – Love and music – was very beautifully sung.

Making his role debut as her lover Cavaradossi, lyric tenor Robyn Lyn Evans was magnificent, and as good to watch as he was to listen to.   His ability to sustain Puccini’s long, verismo lines and soar seemingly effortlessly to the top of the tenor register was quite spellbinding.  In those scenes of tender emotion, and whether singing solo or in one of the tight ensembles, his performance was of the very highest order, never more so than in his heartfelt rendition of E lucevan le stele – When the stars were brightly shining – snippets of which we were singing all the way home!

Last but not least, Nicholas Folwell’s rich baritone as Scarpia, the chief of police, was everything one could have wished.  There was a real sense of malignancy in his Va, Tosca! – Go, Tosca! – as he plots to send Cavaradossi to his death, while his unwanted advances to Tosca conveyed both menace and lust: Gia, mi dicon venal – Venal my enemies call me.  Creepy stuff.  Although, for the curtain calls I would have preferred to have cheered him, his boos were equally richly deserved.

The supporting members of the company, Tristan Hambleton (Angelotti), Matthew Buswell (Sacristan and Sciarrone) and Jonathan Cooke (Spoletta) added much to the overall success of the production, as did Opera Project’s twelve piece orchestra, in musical director Jonathan Lyness’ clever arrangement of the score. In the lighter moments, such as in the introduction to Act III, the clarity and general sympathy of the ensemble playing was particularly effective, although it has to be said that the considerably reduced string section resulted in a significant lack of depth when it came to Puccini’s big crescendos. The Tobacco Factory’s dry acoustic cannot have helped matters, but doubling up on the upper strings would, I am sure, have been well worth the additional expense.

Although some sort of programme note explaining why director Richard Studer had chosen to set the opera in the 1960s would have been valuable, with the audience sat in horseshoe formation and with the orchestra at the open end, we all felt close to the action and it all looked very Cold War-ish. With good sightlines too, a simple but very effective set and some brilliantly atmospheric lighting, visually, this aspect of the production was a great success. Less effective, I felt, were the costumes, Tosca’s outfits in particular needing a bit of a rethink.

In a small venue such as the Tobacco Factory, Tosca could so easily have been delivered in an overblown even hammed up way.  By and large it was the restraint with which much of this production was handled that gave last night’s performance its undoubted power and intensity.

Tosca runs until 14th October.  For more details visit the website,


Posted in Reviews on .