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Tosca review at Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon – ‘a handsome chamber staging’

Scene from Mid Wales Opera's Tosca
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It’s 30 years since Mid Wales Opera first set out to bring fully staged chamber productions to small, rural communities – and it’s more than 20 years since it last toured Puccini’s violent thriller, Tosca.

This new English-language staging by director-designer Richard Studer is bleak yet handsome and keeps things simple, placing its focus on a narrative in which innocence and love stand no chance against systemic evil made personal.

Deft re-touchings of a traditional set emphasise the links between ancient and modern corrupt elites, as a fetid church becomes a Cold War police office, then a place of execution.

Over three acts, the audience is swiftly propelled from romantic hope to grim realities of torture and murder – thanks not least to the drama of the reduced-orchestra score, performed by an excellent 11-strong Ensemble Cymru under arranger-conductor Jonathan Lyness.

Compressing a wealth of lyrical colour into an urgent tapestry, Lyness offers robust support to a well-matched cast, with Joseph Padfield and Emyr Wyn Jones notable as both Angelotti and Sacristan. Most touching is the contribution of the local community chorus, who hold aloft pictures of the disappeared as they sing the Act I Te Deum.

As with any production of Tosca, the power of the performance ultimately depends on whether the central relationship triangle delivers the necessary psychological punch. Here, the principals are vocally ardent and generate just enough physical tension for a gripping descent into terror.

Elin Pritchard makes an impassioned yet dignified heroine, coy then enamoured with Charne Rochford’s imploring Cavaradossi, and repulsed by Nicholas Folwell’s sadistic Scarpia. Masterminding the atrocities, the police chief belies his rumpled detective appearance to lend vicious, non-pious overtones to the word “confession”.

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A bleak yet handsome chamber staging of Puccini’s violent political thriller