It’s been quite a lucky weekend for me, Not only did I win tickets to Chapter Friday night, but last night was treated to two free (and I must say, fantastic) seats for Tosca opening night, as well as a fabulous champagne reception.
We arrived at the Wales Millennium Centre to a warm service, as always. Ian Douglas, the Welsh National Opera company director, greeted us with tickets and a programme, directing us up to our champagne and pre-show treats. It was all very lovely and fancy, and a great way to start off the evening.
We took our seats – and what seats! Perfectly in the middle at the front of the mid stalls. As someone who can normally only afford the cheapest of the cheap seats (sob!), this was fantastic, and really added to the incredible experience.
The show itself did not disappoint. Tosca is an operatic thriller. It’s fast, exciting and quite literally takes no prisoners. This production encapsulated the dramatic thrill of the story superbly, as well as the poignant love between Tosca and Cavaradossi. The lovers, played by Mary Elizabeth Williams (in her WNO debut) and Gwyn Hughes Jones, were engaging, relatable, funny and charismatic. In particular, Williams’ voice was spine-tingling – so powerful and full of layers and layers of emotion. Their love was incredibly vivid and real, you could feel your own heart calling out to them as the final scene grew closer – Cavaradossi’s execution.
The political and religious undertones of the story were portrayed through the impressive sets and costumes. In fact, I felt these really added to the performance. The stark contrasts between the three acts was emphasised through the three very different sets. We saw Tosca’s religious commitments and inner peace through the first set of the church, and her good-natured, albeit jealous disposition. The next set was dark, cold and claustrophobic, hinting at the intimidation and evil of Scarpia as he planted further poison into Tosca’s life. For me, this scene was the most poignant. The tension rose and rose as the scene unfolded. You could feel yourself on the edge of your seat as you knew what was coming. Williams’ furtive glances towards the glistening dagger, Scarpia’s evil and self assured demeanor as he prowled around the room, blissfully unaware of his looming death.
Photography by Robert Workman
Tosca’s pain was palpable as she battled with her religious commitments and her deep love for Cavaradossi. Should she give in to the cruel demands of Scarpia, or remain true to her soul mate, destroying her beliefs in the process? Her anguish was intense and agonizing, marked by her passionate and harrowing song. As she took the dagger, plunging it into Scarpia’s back, you could hear the whole audience catching their breath. Williams did not hold back – throwing herself into the act, no gore was spared.
The final act was set in the powerful scene of the execution site. Dimly lit, a stone angel loomed over the stage – a sign of what was to come. As the lovers are together again for one final time, we once again were subject to the intense love they shared. The scene was beautiful and fantastically played. The excitement and promise of a future made you want to jump from your seat and shout the truth at them. The moment Tosca realises the execution of her love was not a hoax at all was excruciating. The sheer anguish expressed by Williams in those final moments was incredible. As she threw herself to her death, the crowd erupted. It was a closing scene near on perfection, played with precision, honesty and unadulterated talent.
All in all, the night was an absolute delight. Aside from the fantastic cast, the words themselves found their way into my veins and just swam through my body. I indulged myself in the beauty of the script – the most sublime poetry. Tosca was gripping, enchanting and hair-raising – a pleasure of an evening.