This straightforward, by-the-book Tosca revival proved itself quite content to settle for the inherent drama of Puccini's score and Sardou's story, rather than striving for some deeper artistic meaning. The result is an evening of unashamedly enjoyable (and very plausible) drama, and very high standards from both stage and pit.

Claire Rutter (Tosca) and Mark S Doss (Scarpia) © Richard Hubert Smith
Claire Rutter (Tosca) and Mark S Doss (Scarpia)
© Richard Hubert Smith

The WNO Orchestra and the energetic form of Carlo Rizzi deserve great credit for offering up many of the most stirring moments of the night. I cannot remember this orchestra's string section playing with the luxurious depth of tone that Rizzi commanded, born of a beautiful richness in the violas and cellos. There was some breathtaking playing just either side of the second interval, first as Tosca surveys the lifeless body of Scarpia and latterly as Cavarodossi muses on his fate at dawn. The ramparts scene was transformed from post-interval warm up fodder to what was arguably the emotional heart of the night by memorable solos for cello and clarinet principals.

Claire Rutter, sharing the roles of Tosca with Mary Elizabeth Williams, sang tonight's title role with conviction, beauty and convincingly passionate drama. The innocent victim of Act 1 elsewhere found more fiery reserve as the tortured opera singer, her voice warmly coloured throughout her range, and her second act “Vissi d'arte” was enormously moving. Opposite her, Mexican tenor Hector Sandoval was a stage-filling presence who projected with apparent ease. He masterminded some entertaining tomfoolery with the Sacristan in Act 1 and helped engineer some stirring moments with Tosca just before his death.

Claire Rutter (Tosca) and Mark S Doss (Scarpia) © Richard Hubert Smith
Claire Rutter (Tosca) and Mark S Doss (Scarpia)
© Richard Hubert Smith

Mark S Doss sang Scarpia with pleasing depth of character beyond the thuggish villain he can sometimes be. This was a scheming, manipulative and cruel chief of police who delighted in tormenting Tosca during her lover's torture while simultaneously carving a ham. His tall, upright figure and measured but striking tone more often hinted at great power rather than trying to dominate the stage through mere volume, and the result was something quite menacing.

Hector Sandoval (Cavaradossi) and Claire Rutter (Tosca) © Richard Hubert Smith
Hector Sandoval (Cavaradossi) and Claire Rutter (Tosca)
© Richard Hubert Smith

Benjamin Davis, reviving Michael Blakemore's production, takes few risks but crafts some spectacular set pieces. Tosca's ritualistic laying out of candles and crucifix around Scarpia's body, neatly choreographed in the score, sent a shiver down the spine. The Act 1 Te Deum, seeing the WNO Chorus as excellent as always, and Cavarodossi's execution (magnificently accompanied by the slow orchestral march) were a joy to behold. So too were the attractive and richly detailed sets. Sant'Andrea della Valle, with its deep set chapels and enormous painting, gave ample support to some whole-hearted acting, and the attention given to furnishing Scarpia's rooms (and indeed his dining table) was remarkable. Mark Henderson's lighting was simple but highly effective, the slow dawn of a blood red sunrise in the final act in sharp contrast to the stony, ecclesiastical shades of Act 1. 

A safe production perhaps, but this Tosca is a night filled with the richest entertainment.

****1