sun 16/06/2024

Tosca, Wales Millennium Centre | reviews, news & interviews

Tosca, Wales Millennium Centre

Tosca, Wales Millennium Centre

Bryn Terfel's 50th year drawing to a close in Puccini's not-so-shabby shocker

Bryn Terfel and Aïnhoa Arteta: Scarpia's supper interruptedGlenn Edwards

There’s a good deal to be said for semi-staged opera. It concentrates the mind in a particular way; it brings the orchestra more fully into the action; it moves the singers closer to the audience; and above all it reduces – even removes – the power of the director to superimpose some crackpot notion of his or her own on the dramaturgic design of the composer and librettist.

Tosca, a work that in any case hardly lends itself to updating or relocation (though that hasn’t always stopped that happening), does on the other hand call for expert stage direction; and this is doubly the case with the singers confined to a narrow strip between the orchestra and the footlights.

Everyone had come to the Wales Millennium Centre to hear Bryn Terfel, singing Scarpia a week before his 50th birthday. And they certainly weren’t disappointed; they heard him and he was on stunning form. But they got something more rounded and dynamic than a mere star vehicle. A strong cast all round gave a brilliant account of Puccini’s most melodramatic opera, presenting it as something altogether more substantial than the “shabby little shocker” of Joseph Kerman’s straight-faced Opera as Drama. And for this the director, Amy Lane (she was above all an enabler), deserves a lot of credit.

Puccini has the voices front of stage but composed through the orchestraHer single miscalculation was to have the (excellent as ever) WNO chorus onstage for the offstage cantata in the second act; they inevitably drowned out the crucial interview between Scarpia and Cavaradossi. For the rest the ebb and flow of the plot was caught with precision and without distraction. Puccini’s theatrical genius was on full display; the fact that Tosca sheds no light on the refugee problem, Scottish independence, or gay marriage seemed not to matter too much.

Musically what happens under these circumstances? Although, being Italian, Puccini always has the voices front of stage, he actually composed – like Wagner – through the orchestra. The work’s structure is a sequence of musical scene-changes, every one of them orchestral. It’s a technique that can pass half-unnoticed with the orchestra out of sight in the pit. But here it was visible as well as audible, and a powerful element in the stage narrative.

How many non-musicians, for instance, normally attend to the beautiful quartet of solo cellos that accompanies Cavaradossi’s trading of his ring for the delivery of a last letter to Tosca? Here it was a visible dialogue between the incident (in the voice) and the emotion (in the orchestra: the theme is that of the love duet in Act 1). And there were countless other examples. For the singers, the proximity of the players clearly enhanced the sense of collaboration, not least thanks to some superb playing and Gareth Jones’s immaculate, painstaking conducting of the WNO orchestra.

Terfel, in his most powerful voice, dominated the stage with this Scarpia that is demonic without quite growing horns and a forked tail: Iago taken on as chief of police. But the performance was made, just as much, by Aïnhoa Arteta's wonderfully mobile, richly coloured Tosca, and by the intensely personable Cavaradossi of Teodor Ilincăi (pictured above), a voice that grew in warmth and clarity as the evening went on. There were also some fine individual vignettes: notably Alun Rhys-Jenkins’s villainously impassive Spoletta, Romanas Kudriašovas’s surprisingly but not unconvincingly youthful Sacristan, and a beautifully sung, correctly youthful Shepherd Boy from Huw Jones

It would be great to see this lot in a fully staged production. But then the director would be taking a bow as well, and for what?

The fact that 'Tosca' sheds no light on the refugee problem, Scottish independence, or gay marriage seemed not to matter


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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Any idea if this was filmed at all ? was not filmed.

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