Tosca, Coliseum, London

Tosca goes over the top

Tosca BC – before Callas. It's something that's become increasingly hard for any of us to remember, though for the greater part of act one, that's where David McVicar's new staging seemed to belong. It looked good: oppressive black marble setting by Michael Vale, gigantic crucifix bearing down on the worshippers at the Church of Sant'Andrea delle Valle. It sounded good, too, the Te Deum thundering through the Coliseum, with bells and distant cannon as convincing as I've ever heard them. But it felt stale, second-hand – until the moment just before the close of the act where Tosca, goaded by Chief of Police Scarpia into believing that she has been betrayed by her lover Cavaradossi, throws herself into Scarpia's arms, leaving the perfume of desire and lust for him to inhale like Hannibal Lecter scenting his next meal. Now that was definitely not Tosca BC.

The problem with Tosca in English (and, in particular, a translation as terminally arch as this one by Amanda Holden) is that the words are a proverbial cold shower when it comes to passion. It didn't help that McVicar, in his efforts to do more than skirt around the sex-and-religion overtones in act one, encouraged inappropriately kittenish body language from his Tosca: presumably, this just another "performance" from Tosca, the diva. Cheryl Barker, whose excellent diction made her task even harder, was a credible diva, albeit a badly dressed one. Her gown in act two was an aberration on the part of costume designer Brigitte Reiffenstuel. Barker came into her own in this middle act. And so did the nostril-flaring Scarpia of Peter Coleman-Wright – her husband in real life, just to add a little extra frisson.The explicit sado-masochism of this scene (intensified by the dungeon-like gauntness of the set, strikingly lit by Paule Constable) earned the opera that well-worn epithet "shabby little shocker".

Whoever coined the phrase would not have dared contemplate what McVicar had in store. Scarpia is, of course, essentially a rapist whose high is non-consensual sex. Tosca's growing hatred excites him. But McVicar implies a dormant complicity in Tosca – so that when he lies dead by her own hand, the sexual power-game finally reversed, she provocatively runs her hand down his thigh and leaves a less-than-chaste kiss on his lips. Phew. Mr Coleman-Wright will know to watch out next time Mrs Barker feigns a headache.

Barker had a really good shot at Tosca. She looked good and she sang strongly; with temperament, not stinting on the overwrought highs or lows of the role. The colour of the voice was right, the line-readings her own, not Callas's. "Vissi d'Arte" might have had fewer breaths and sobs, but I can name many an international star who has not sung it half so well. So, too, Coleman-Wright, whose lowering stage presence was the right side of melodrama, and whose sense of sung-speech was telling. John Hudson has fewer natural attributes for Cavaradossi, but he didn't short-change us vocally in the big moments.

Mark Shanahan's conducting rightly indulged the honeyed decadence of the string portamento and hit the nodal points forcefully. Only in act three did the playing falter (dodgy solo cello), and I'd certainly like to have heard more from the horns as Tosca made her scheduled leap from the battlements for that pressing appointment with Scarpia before God. Though quite what God will have made of her behaviour in act two, I cannot imagine.

To 17 April (020-7632 8300; www.eno.org)

Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific