Culture critic Madeline McInnis reviews Mindgame at the Belgrade, Coventry.Written by mmcinnis on 16th March 2018
Review: Puccini’s ‘Tosca’ performed by Welsh National Opera
Culture critic Tatiana Zhelezniakova reviews a 'highly enjoyable' production of Puccini's Tosca, performed by the Welsh National Opera
One of my all-time favourite things is going to an opera that has widely famous arias, and suddenly seeing the surrounding plot and music give them colour, make them come alive with the story. And, of course, the celebrated arias “Vissi d’arte” and “E lucevan le stele” were as beautiful as expected, but they were made so much more poignant and goosebump-inducing by the wonderful delivery and the acting given by the singers of the WNO.
“The celebrated arias ...were made so much more poignant and goosebump-inducing by the wonderful delivery and the acting given by the singers of the WNO
For those unfamiliar with Puccini’s ‘Tosca’, it is about as tragic as operas come. Set in Rome during the Napoleonic wars, the plot follows the painter Cavaradossi and his lover, the singer Tosca, as they try to hide Angelotti, a political fugitive. The pair endure blackmail from the Chief of Police, Baron Scarpia, who seeks to recapture Angelotti and have Tosca for himself. Despite deaths, and deals made, all meet a tragic end. I wasn’t settling in for a feel-good show - but it was worth it.
While Claire Rutter and Hector Sandoval (Tosca and Cavaradossi, respectively), were notable with impressive vocals, it was perhaps the more minor characters who shone. Mark S Doss as Scarpia was particularly outstanding, and the energy levels increased considerably every time Baron Scarpia set foot on stage. He possessed both with a beautiful velvet quality to his lower register, as well as fine-tuned acting technique, earning him a suitable villain booing from the audience at the bows. Daniel Grice delivered a wonderful, if brief, performance as Angelotti, and Donald Maxwell’s Sacristan was the much needed comic relief, making the production feel more multidimensional. A light addition to the first act was the children’s choir, creating a full and rich chorus.
It disappoints me to say that perhaps the weakest link of an overall great production was the titular character. While Claire Rutter has a lovely voice, and would have been completely satisfactory as Tosca on a CD recording, she didn’t quite bring the same standard of acting exhibited by the other company members to the stage. Her spotlight moments were often over-acted, and she conveyed a fairly irritating character, making it less than believable that she would be so desirable to Cavaradossi and Scarpia.
“Tradition in opera is comfortable, but when all is said and done, it will still leave you on the edge of tears at the final notes
Opera might once have been thought of as part of the realm of music, not theatre, but this production worked hard to prove this wrong. In addition to some fantastic performances, the set design was highly thought through, culminating at a beautiful reproduction of the Castel Sant’Angelo at sunrise, a suitable backdrop for the tragedies of the final act. The impressive changes between each act enhanced the feeling of a dynamic story, giving a new undertone to each act. The production was slightly let down by the costumes; while perfectly apt, they were at times lacklustre. Tosca’s dresses could have been a beautiful detail, but unfortunately they did not look especially period-appropriate or well-made. However, this was a small part, easily lost when swept up in Puccini’s music and the atmosphere of the performance.
While not the most avant-garde production, WNO’s Tosca made for a highly enjoyable evening, showing that tradition in opera is comfortable, but when all is said and done, it will still leave you on the edge of tears at the final notes.
More information on the Welsh National Opera productions can be found here.