Review: English Touring Opera present Tosca at Cambridge Arts Theatre - a tragedy that is uplifting

English Touring Opera is bringing Puccini's Tosca to Cambridge Arts Theatre

English Touring Opera is bringing Puccini's Tosca to Cambridge Arts Theatre - Credit: Archant

Set in a time of war, Tosca is a melodrama. It is high Victorian theatre, if you can call the Italian Puccini a Victorian.

The opera premiered in 1900 but is set in 1800, before Napoleon met his Waterloo. In a sense, it doesn’t matter which war it relates to. Love, treachery and unspeakable cruelty pervade them all. Our doomed hero, the artist Cavaradossi will suffer because he helps a friend in trouble, Angelotti, an escaped political prisoner.

His lover, our doomed heroine, Floria Tosca, (also an opera singer in the story) will unwittingly betray him as part of the destruction waged by war.

On Tuesday night at Cambridge Arts Theatre, Paula Sides was luminescent as Tosca, bringing out the humour as well as the beauty of the role. She had the audience chuckling in the opening scene, when, jealous at the woman in Cavaradossi’s paintings, she tells him to change the colour of the subject’s eyes to the shade of hers.

Even at the tragic end, when she mistakenly believes that the evil police chief, Baron Scarpia has arranged only an mock execution for her lover meaning they can escape, she brings a smile to her audience by showing him how to collapse as if hit by the imaginary bullet. Being a performer, she says, of course, she knows how to do this.

Paula Sides’ delicate and nuanced performance and dynamic, dramatic voice are a privilege to see and hear. The aria in Act II “Vissi d’arte” (“I lived for art”). where she asks God why this is happening to her had the audience spellbound and at her feet.

There is a wonderful chemistry between her and Andrew Slater who plays Scarpia as the consumate villain, a man with no redeeming features. When he thinks he will get his wicked way with Tosca, he actually licks his lips. He’s a thug but he’s subtle enough to convince her in the end that he might have a heart after all. A powerful performance, wonderfully sung.

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And in act III, Paula Sides’ Tosca and Alexander James Edwards as Cavaradossi are heartbreaking as the lovers who are trapped in a war not of their making. As stumbles broken onto the stage to face his execution, we realise that world conflicts come down, in the end, to the tragedy of a single person, one soul caught up in it.

This production is not as imaginatively staged as some English Touring Opera productions. The set is uninspiring and bringing on amateur singers, including children, in the first act to swell the chorus, doesn’t add anything to the show (this is opera not pantomime) but the poignancy of the lead performances is memorable and make the evening uplifting.

ETO presents Patience by Gilbert and Sullivan on Wednesday and Thursday, April 26 and 27, Tosca on Friday and Saturday, April 28 and 29.