Theatre in Wales

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PUTTING THE GRAND INTO OPERA

TOSCA

Welsh National Opera , Wales Millennium Centre , February-09-18
TOSCA by Welsh National Opera Welsh National Opera’s Artistic Director, David Pountney invites us to leave our inhibitions in the cloakroom and revel in his season of Rabble Rousers. Puccini’s Tosca is the second in this trio of remarkably strong rabble rousing productions. But it’s much more than that. It is a very fine example of the excellent quality of artistic achievement we find more and more often with the WNO.

A huge warm welcome was given as Carlo Rizzi (WNO Conductor Laureate) took his place on the podium. The lights went down, he raised his baton and the first dramatic notes of Puccini’s music gave us a clear indication of the drama that lies ahead. We are in a large church, brown and candle lit. Ashley Martin-Davis’ sets for each of the acts are like huge ‘Old Master’ paintings brought vividly to life. With Mark Henderson’s subtle lighting adding the final touch.

Angelotti, with a suitably gritty performance from Daniel Grice, former Consul of the Roman Republic creeps into the church; he has escaped from prison; he hides in his sister’s private chapel. She has left woman’s clothes there to help him flee the country. An elderly Sacristan starts to clean the church. The low tension in the music begins to rise. The tragic hero of the story, Cavaradossi, a painter enters. He climbs on to a wooden scaffold; the sacristan helps him with his paints. His fine painting of Mary Magdalene is lowered down; a beautiful angelic face with blue eyes and blond hair.

Internationally acclaimed tenor, Hector Sandoval gives us the first of many dynamic arias as he compares the painting to his lover, the opera singer Tosca who has brown eyes and dark hair! This is followed by a short, delightful musical discourse between the warm baritone notes of Sacristan, Donald Maxwell, full of bewildered charm and Sandoval’s enriching tenor.

Angelotti comes out of the chapel. He and Cavaradossi are old friends. He agrees to help him and sends him on his way. Tosca comes into the church. Tosca is a very strong character at the centre of this story. Claire Rutter with her powerful soprano and very fine acting grasps the role firmly with both hands. They celebrate their love with an almost low-key duet, ‘Do you not long for our little house.’

Grammy award-winning American bass-baritone Mark S Dodd makes Scarpia the essence of evil. Before he starts his ‘fun and games’ he is in the church praising God, accompanied by the sumptuous singing of the ever-remarkable WNO chorus.

(Carlo Rizzi, at one with the admirable music of the company’s orchestra, with the powerful chorus singing takes us well on our way to operatic nirvana.)

We don’t go to a ‘little house’ but to Scarpia’s apartment. Another excellent picture from designer Martin-Davies. This where all the ‘real’ melodrama takes place. Scarpia has Tosca in his apartment. Outside he has Cavaradossi being tortured by his henchman. The sly libertine tells Tosca if she will give herself to him, he will release her real love. The auditorium becomes filled with thrilling voices led by the sneering bass-baritone of Doss’ Scarpia. Bloody and near broken Cavaradossi revives to taunt Scarpia at Napoleon’s victory. The very self-assured roué prepares the floor with cushions for his seduction of Tosca. She seems to be weakening as she also fills the theatre with her final aria, ‘I lived for art, I lived, I lived for love’. She sees her only way out, picks up a knife and kills the beast, Scarpia. We are all cheering inside ourselves.

In the final act we are at the gallows high on a castle roof. Angelotti’s corpse is taken down and removed. Cavaradossi is next, he is going to be shot but Tosca has arranged for the shooting to be done with blank bullets. Tosca pleads with the soldiers to let them have a few moments together before he is tied to the shooting post and we are given their very sensitive final duet. When the guns fire he falls to his death. Tosca knows that she is being pursued for her killing of Scarpia. The music rises in its drama as she flings herself from the ramparts, bringing this ‘concerto’ of orchestra and voices to a triumphant close.








Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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