Welsh National Opera

Birmingham Hippodrome


Benjamin Davis’s revival of Michael Blakemore's production of Tosca takes it to new heights, playing out this story of political corruption and love on a grandiose scale.

Huge cathedral like sets, castle rooms and towering stone battlements bear witness to the desperate measures of power struggles of Rome in the 1800s.

Grand too was the music and singing. Under the strong lead of Carlo Rizzi it simply overwhelmed the senses at times with power and yet a subtle complexity.

Puccini’s dramatic score is so detailed in its dramatic tone and precisely reflects practically every shift in each of the character’s story. There was such a depth and richness in the string section that moments of nonverbal action took on a truly a cinematic effect

This was especially evident in the opening of act three where dawn slowly opened on the castle ramparts and the scene was set for the operas tragic ending. 

Claire Rutter’s experience with another recent engagement as Floria Tosca seemed evident with a command and precision of the role, creating a powerhouse performance.

She seemed able to conjure what seemed another notch of passionate volume when the brass and string sections rose to huge dramatic proportions. Her rendition of Vissi d’arte was focused and static but sung with convincing passion.

American Mark S Doss performed Scarpia with a dastardly relish. The finery of his clothes was in complete contradiction to his truly Machiavellian demeanour.

He oozed menace and guile whilst manipulating the poor grief stricken Tosca closer towards her sexual surrender by the act of the bloody torture of her lover Cavarodossi.   

tosca stabbing

Claire Rutter's Tosca surveys the now lifeless Scarpia sung by Mark S Doss.

Pictures: Richard Hubert

A clever staging trick was to clearly have him carve a piece of meat off a large ham with real knife, then for that knife to be used on him murderously as Tosca takes her revenge.

It’s a small detail but an effective one in the realism of the violent act. Doss was both Bond villain and Harvey Weinstein in one and with his powerful tone he fully owned the character.

Mexican tenor Hector Sandoval grew in stature as his performance progressed in both his acting and singing. His light playful and comical opening with a Sacristan in Act 1 opened out to the heartfelt and desperate romance when sadly recalling his beloved Tosca during the famous aria, E lucevan le stelle prior to his death.

This production of Tosca is a no-frills affair but filled with grand dramatic gestures. Featuring a huge religious almost papal procession, supported by the entire WNO Chorus, sets with their gigantic stone edifices and the varied use of ceremonial candle light.

This was especially effective when the stage lighting fell to just candle light and Tosca creates a human crucifix of her slain murder victim Scarpia before leaving him to be found.

Add to this the detailed nuances of Rizzi's conducting and his close connection to his cast and you have a very watchable production. 

With the real world struggling to globally correct acts of sexual abuse and bullying Tosca’s fate is a real Me Too story and reminds us that there is nothing new under the sun.

Jeff Grant


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