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Review: Tosca & Patience, English Touring Opera, Snape Maltings

PUBLISHED: 17:31 18 April 2017 | UPDATED: 17:31 18 April 2017

English Touring Opera - Patience - L-R Lady Jane, Valerie Reid; Bunthorne, Bradley Travis; Saphir, Suzanne Fischer Picture: RICHARD HUBERT SMITH

English Touring Opera - Patience - L-R Lady Jane, Valerie Reid; Bunthorne, Bradley Travis; Saphir, Suzanne Fischer Picture: RICHARD HUBERT SMITH

Archant

Puccini alongside Gilbert and Sullivan might seem an unusual pairing but it certainly produced a full and enthusiastic house for the one performance of Patience and only marginally fewer in the audience for the first of two Toscas. English Touring Opera have shrewdly balanced musical substance with wide box-office appeal for their spring season.

English Touring Opera- Tosca - L-R Scarpia, Craig Smith; Tosca, Paula Sides. Picture: RICHARD HUBERT SMITH English Touring Opera- Tosca - L-R Scarpia, Craig Smith; Tosca, Paula Sides. Picture: RICHARD HUBERT SMITH

Tosca is well-known for its opening brass chords and sometimes heavy orchestration and very occasionally one felt the lack of full orchestral forces. However, this was more than offset by the intensity and delicacy of the playing from all sections of the orchestra. The experienced Michael Rosewell maintained musical momentum while allowing space for the drama to unfold.

Paula Sides was a convincing Tosca, a strong stage presence with a clear voice and delivery. Andrew Slater captured all the bluster of the villainous Scarpia while perhaps underplaying his more insidious menace. Alexander James Edwards was an ardent Cavaradossi and the other roles were performed with elegant aplomb. The pared down, unfussy set made good use of different levels and Tosca’s final leap was effectively staged.

Patience is one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s happiest creations – a witty satire on the Aesthetic Movement and its principal characters with some of Gilbert’s cleverest and sharpest wit knitted into Sullivan’s beautifully judged score. Despite high esteem it lacks the almost universal appeal of Pirates or Pinafore so full marks to ETO for their choice. Direction and design by Liam Steel, Florence de Mare and Mark Howland was pitch perfect, rich greens and flowing contours – greenery yallery indeed.

The various groups – aesthetes, maidens and military – were brilliantly characterised with their distinctive styles and music and the performers captured all their endearments and eccentricities without putting a foot wrong. Lauren Zolezzi was a most engaging Patience, youthful but far from naïve and Valerie Reid gave a splendid performance as The Lady Jane (complete with double bass). Andrew Slater did well with his patter song, the other guards giving crisp support. Bunthorne and Grosvenor are splendid roles for a bit of display and Bradley Travis and Ross Ramgobin fitted them like a pair of gloves – from the best outfitters of course. The Grosvenor Gallery duet couldn’t fail – it certainly didn’t – both performers had the absolute measure of the roles in every aspect.

Sullivan may have written light music that is easy for listeners but it is far from the case for orchestral players. There is much delicate, exposed writing, often in awkward keys. Every section of the orchestra distinguished itself and conductor Timothy Burke maintained an irresistible sense of joy throughout the performance. May we have another G & S soon please?

Gareth Jones

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