I knew I had witnessed a little magic during the opening sequence of the ENO’S Porgy and Bess last year. Clara (soprano Nadine Benjamin) was singing one of opera’s favourite arias, Summertime, to her babe in arms, and we were spellbound from the get-go. Last Friday, she commandeered the pulpit of St James’s Church Piccadilly as Puccini’s heroine, the almighty Tosca, who today would most certainly be a warrior for the Me Too movement. And Benjamin, who is one of today’s opera champions, thanks to her organisation, Everybody Can! Opera mesmerised and entranced once again.
It was a full house as we all took our seats in the pews of St James’s Church, for the semi-staged version of Tosca. But, there was nothing semi, demi or bite-size about the evening’s performance. William Conway’s expert baton choreographed the 14-piece orchestra inside Christopher Wren’s seventeenth-century mini-masterpiece, where the acoustics were surprisingly top-notch (I would trade-in the titanic Royal Albert Hall for this little treasure any day of the week).
Director Rebecca Louise Dale swapped Rome for London in this version, and fast-forwarded the story into a contemporary setting, complete with mobile phones and MAC computers. Baritone David Durham stepped into Detective Chief Inspector Scarpia’s dirty shoes, a modern-day Harvey Weinstein whose invasive hands groped Tosca like a pesky octopus at every opportunity. He reminded us that in his world, “a beautiful woman does not pay with money.” Durham can’t just sing, he is also a dab hand at acting.
Spanish tenor Borja Gómez-Ferrer impressed with his first time as Cavaradossi. Baritone Simon Butteriss sang Sacristan, whilst the role of Angelotti was performed by Nico Laruina.
Nadine Benjamin sang the coquette and capricious Tosca with power, passion and control, even if the stage sometimes seemed a little cramped for the fiery role. Tragically, it was one night only for Tosca, but you can catch Benjamin at the ENO as Musetta in La Bohème, opening on the 29 January. She will also be singing Verdi’s Requiem at St Barnabas Church on the 23 March and Mendelssohn’s Elijah at Westminster Cathedral on the 30 March. That should be a treat for the ears and eyes!
Everybody Can! Opera encourages diversity in opera and classical music, offering mentoring and work opportunity to people who might not otherwise get the chance to work in this profession. Benjamin and her troupe certainly can – and they did – on Friday.
If you want to visit St James’s Church Piccadilly, check the website for events. Christopher Wren’s pews don’t make for the most comfortable experience, so if you’re visiting for a concert, bring some seat padding when you visit.
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