26 years old this year, Michael Blakemore’s staging of Puccini’s thriller is showing its age. It’s not so much that Ashley Martin-Davis’ designs are old-fashioned – the box-office friendly warhorse arguably works best in a traditional production, and this one resembles a kind of boiled-down essence of all the Toscas you’ve ever seen.
But fatally, the production lacks the wholehearted, moment-by-moment conviction that Puccini’s violently impassioned score demands and that should have the audience on the edge of their seats virtually from start to finish, eagerly following the non-stop progression of thrill after spill after thrill.
The lighting, too, needs improvement: Roman churches in 1800 may well have been gloomy places, but you’re still supposed to be able to see the principals’ faces.
On a wider dramatic level, the plot-motivating sexual connections between the three principals never really spark into life. There’s too much ambling and some pointless running. The show has gone limp.
There are some worthwhile musical foundations. Claire Rutter’s soprano offers all the notes and the edge to her tone is not inappropriate in the emotionally stressed-out context of the title-role. Mexican Hector Sandoval is a useful tenor to have around but he possesses little vocal or dramatic charisma as romantic hero Cavaradossi, while his arms have a life of their own.
Mark S Doss’s Scarpia achieves more by means of a dark solid core to his tone and a manner that combines some of the suavity and sadism required for this iconic operatic villain. The secondary roles are all decently done but again there are fuzzy edges.
WNO’s chorus has a good evening, while under the experienced Carlo Rizzi the company’s orchestra is technically secure and its tone shines brightly; but it’s not enough to redeem the overall flabbiness on stage.