United Kingdom Giacomo Puccini, Tosca: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Welsh National Opera (on tour) / Simon Phillipo (conductor), Venue Cymru (North Wales Theatre), Llandudno, 19.11.2013. (RJF)
Tosca: Mary Elizabeth Williams
Cavaradossi: Gwyn Hughes Jones
Scarpia: Claudio Otelli
Sacristan: William Robert Allenby
Angelotti: Laurence Cole
Spoletta: Michael Clifton-Thomas
Sciarrone: George Newton-Fitzgerald
Shepherd Boy: Paula Bradbury
Gaoler: Jack O’Kelly
Original Director (1992): Michael Blakemore.
Revival Director: Benjamin Davis
Designer: Ashley Martin-Davies
This 1992 production was last seen in Llandudno in 2010 when the germ of cancellations, that was to strike three productions during this season also hit with the indisposition of the scheduled diva. It turned out to be no problem, completely the reverse in fact – pure vocal and acted gold from Naomi Harvey (see review). In the case of this performance of Tosca the cancellation was of the singer scheduled for the role of Angelotti, more than adequately covered by Laurence Cole who has been with WNO since 2008. He is comfortable on stage and portrayed the role well. Like all the singers, and the vibrant chorus, he adapted well to the restrictive space of the Venue Cymru stage which makes the Act One Te Deum rather crowded and the shooting of Cavaradossi in act three somewhat too intimate between execution squad and the prisoner.
The season was billed as The Tudors, plus Tosca, the latter in smaller letters. In the light of what was to follow I was particularly grateful to see Michael Blakemore’s original and traditional production and sets. Yes, there are the odd idiosyncrasies such as the Sacristan, superbly acted by William Robert Allenby, cleaning the church floor when the words say he should be doing Cavaradossi’s brushes, and by the presence of Angelotti’s body tied to the execution post when Scarpia had decreed it be hung from the walls. These were minor aberrations compared to some of the abuse heaped on Donizetti’s ideas and words in the productions of The Tudor Trilogy that followed. I had the suspicion that the two performances of Tosca were in to help balance the books and I am pleased to report that, despite its relatively recent appearances in Llandudno the production was well attended. Attendance was doubtless helped by the presence of local Anglesey, or should I say Ynys Mon, boy Gwyn Hughes Jones as Cavaradossi. He sang with strong clear lyric tone and portrayed the role well. It is a pity that WNO could not afford that other local boy, Bryn Terfel, as the lecherous Scarpia. As it was Austrian Claudio Otelli lacked both the necessary vocal heft and variety of vocal colours to dominate in act one in particular, as well as the physical hauteur of demeanor that the role ideally needs.
It there was disappointment in half of the principal male casting, it was in some measure compensated for in the person of American Mary Elizabeth Williams in the eponymous role. Way back in 2008, I suggested another American, Takesha Meshé Kizart, when singing in Opera North’s idiosyncratic production (see review), was the best Tosca I had heard since Leontine Price an awful long time ago. Mary Elizabeth Williams, with the likes of Aida and the Trovatore Leonora in her repertoire, approaches the same class. She might have portrayed Tosca’s jealousy in act one a little more viperishly in her acting, which came over a little like that of a petulant adolescent. Her singing, however, was top class. In act two, neither her singing nor acted portrayal could be faulted. She sang with warm womanly tone, expressive nuance, excellent phrasing and musicality. In act two she really stood up to Scarpia in body and music, if he didn’t see trouble coming he was short sighted! Along with Gwyn Hughes Jones and Paula Bradbury’s Shepherd Boy, Mary Elizabeth Williams made Act Three a musical delight aided by Simon Phillipo’s pacing and phrasing in the pit.
Robert J Farr.
The Cardiff premiere of this revival on September 21st has also been reviewed on this website.