Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Power and Passion in 30th Anniversary Year Tour

At Mid Wales Opera

Mid Wales Opera- Tosca , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , March 5, 2019
At Mid Wales Opera by Mid Wales Opera- Tosca Wales meets Puccini in a double helping this season. Natalya Romaniw is singing Mimi, marvellously, for ENO. A couple of hundred miles west Elin Pritchard is equally thrilling. Tosca as a role rises to a climax with “Vissi d’arte". The audience rightly gives the passionate performance the special round of applause it asks for.

Richard Studer adds a design credit to that of director. The setting for this “Tosca” is a bureaucratic police regime. The shades and tones of Church of Sant Andrea della Valle are closer to Pawlikowksi's “Cold War” than to a flower of the baroque. The lighting might have benefited from more chiaroscuro, but then I am a fan of the cinematography era of Jack Cardiff and Geoffrey Unsworth. The grimness of tone and set, looking back to Italy's twentieth century, fits well and Studer's direction eschews novelty, concentrating on narrative and character.

Joseph Padfield is suitably brutalised as Angelotti, the escapee from the Castel Saint Angelo. The first act takes off strongly in the duets with Charne Rochford's Cavaradossi. The encounter of compassion changes with the entrance of Nicholas Folwell's Scarpia who projects a palpable chill of fear. Plots thrive on great villains.

The act closes on a high point. Small companies in budget-beleagered Powys are not supposed to bring sizeable choruses with them. Nonetheless, seventeen singers appear on stage for the “Te Deum.” This Italy as a police state has many a victim and the singers hold photographs of the disappeared. The number of singers gives the climax a scale and a volume that were Puccini's intention.

In fact it is a result of Mid Wales Opera's deep engagement in the community, drawn from local singers and choirs, some from Aberystwyth itself. In the pit, with Jonathan Lyness conducting, are 13 musicians of Ensemble Cymru. The Ensemble's work to come includes Gareth Glyn's adaptation of “Un Nos Ola Leuad.”

“Tosca” tours with a substantial set. Production manager Bridget Wallbank reveals some of the company's talents behind the drama and the music. The longevity of the team is remarkable. The lightness of design is provided by the metal work of Glyn Roberts, who has worked with Mid Wales Opera for 25 years. Scenic artist Julie Ann Heskin goes back to 1999. In this context stage carpenter Nick Johnson-Walker, a collaborator of eight years, is a relative newcomer.

The fulsome programme provides the background of Sardou's 1887 play and the colossal popularity that Sarah Bernhardt brought to it. Puccini saw the potential in it writing to his publisher “I can see in this Tosca the opera I need, with no overblown proportions, no elaborate spectacle, nor will it call for the usual excessive amount of music.” That may be but it is still the most concentrated and violent of plots, Scarpia's demise still packing a dramatic punch.

Mid Wales Opera is celebrating its 30th birthday and marked it with a gala concert on February 22nd. Galina Averina was guest performer and Stephen Medcalf and Emily Gottlieb were among many who were present. A company that reaches 30 years does so for particular reasons. A follow-up article will list them.

Thanks are given for “Tosca” to Arts Council Wales, Powys County Council, Fenton Arts Trust, D'Oyly Carte Charitable Trust, the John Lewis Chairman's Fund along with many individuals.

The tour continues until 27th March to Theatr Brycheiniog, Pontio, Hereford, the Torch, Theatr Clwyd, and the Riverfront.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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