Having never been to an opera before but having heard rave reviews about Welsh National Opera, I leapt at the chance to see the company perform Tosca at Birmingham Hippodrome.

And what better way to mark International Women’s Day than by watching Tosca overcome her persecutor, stabbing him to death and asserting her power and influence in dramatic operatic style? Scarpia’s lament, ‘I’ve been killed by a woman’, sums up the ongoing battle which, more broadly, women face even today, over one hundred years after Puccini wrote the opera.

The story of Tosca is a dramatic one, full of lust, jealousy, foul play and murder. Claire Rutter, who takes the title role, is brilliant, bringing energy, overbearing passion and more than a touch of drama to the part. Tosca is a jealous woman, and this vulnerability is played out to perfection on stage. Rutter’s facial expressions, gestures and powerful singing voice brilliantly convey all the passion that Puccini no doubt felt this character both needed for the story and deserved. Tosca’s lover, Cavaradossi (Hector Sandoval), is elegant, but my favourite cast member had to be Mark S Doss, who played the part of villain-of-the-piece Scarpia, whose underhand and manipulative scheming is central to the deception at the core of the story. Doss’s Scarpia is an enigmatic yet repulsive character who flagrantly abuses his power. I absolutely wanted him to get his just desserts, and he absolutely did - in true operatic style.

The stage set pieces are simple and add to the atmosphere, whether it be the interior of a church or the battlements of the Castel Sant’Angelo. The clever use of lighting (particularly off stage) and shadow adds sinister undertones to the performance. The small details, including the wrought iron gates that clank as they’re opened and closed in act one, have been thought about and very much help to transport the audience back in time. If I had one criticism, it would be that when sitting far forward in the stalls, looking up to the subtitling high above the stage while keeping an eye on the acting is hard work. That said, the on-stage performances and live orchestra more than make up for it.

This may have been my first ever time at the opera, but I can safely say that I’m well and truly hooked.

4 Stars
Stephen Spinks