Michael Blakemore’s production of Puccini’s Tosca sets the opera in the middle of Rome in 1800, just as it says in the libretto. Cavaradossi paints in the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, surrounded by chapel railings and holy statues; Scarpia’s office in the Palazzo Farnese (now the French Embassy) has an en-suite torture chamber; and the final act is played out on the roof of the Castel Sant’Angelo, with the archangel’s statue brandishing its sword above the firing-squad as the sun rises over Rome. The WNO chorus is in its element with the glorious Te Deum that brings the first act to its climax, and the bells that ring over Rome at the start of Act 3 include one that was cast especially for this production.
Verdi’s opera on the power of fate – or the force of destiny – is set in Spain and Italy in 1750, and tells the story of the Marquis of Calatrava, and of his daughter Leonora’s love for Don Alvaro, a Peruvian adventurer whom her father detests. When Alvaro goes into hiding, Leonora’s brother Don Carlo sets off in pursuit. Verdi’s opera is the occasion for rousing choruses, lyrical arias, and a comic role for the baritone Fra Melitone, a Franciscan who becomes involved in the plot to reunite Leonora with her lover.
In its programming and productions WNO strives to combine adventurousness with accessibility, and commitment to developing new audiences with musical and dramatic integrity. The company punches far above its weight and it is one of the most admired centres of operatic excellence in Europe.
In 2004 WNO moved into their current home, the Wales Millennium Centre. The architectural brief was to build something ‘unmistakably Welsh and internationally outstanding.’ The winning firm, Percy Thomas, came up with a monumental yet accessible structure of slate, glass, steel and timber built to withstand the lashings of the elements on its coastal location.
The tour begins at 4.00pm with a short walk from the hotel across the Cardiff Bay development to the Wales Millennium Centre (WMC) for a lecture and pre-opera dinner. 7.15pm: Tosca (Giacomo Puccini), Michael Blakemore (director), Carlo Rizzi (conductor), Claire Rutter, Hector Sandoval, Daniel Grice, Donald Maxwell, Mark S. Doss.
Take the boat from Cardiff Bay to the National Museum of Wales which has one of the finest collections of Impressionist paintings in the UK. Return to the hotel, lecture, dinner and at 6.30pm: La forza del destino (Giuseppe Verdi), David Pountney (director), Carlo Rizzi (conductor), Mary Elizabeth Williams, Gwyn Hughes Jones, Justina Gringyte, Luis Cansino, Miklós Sebestyén, Donald Maxwell, Alun Rhys-Jenkins, Wyn Pencarreg.
A guided tour of the Wales Millennium Centre is followed by Cardiff Castle – a mediaeval keep, a Victorian recreation of the perimeter wall of the Roman Fort and a residence with wonderful Gothic Revival interiors created by Burgess for the Marquess of Bute. The tour finishes at Cardiff Central Station by 2.30pm and at the hotel shortly after that.
Simon writes programme articles and surtitles for many British opera companies, and reviews for Opera, Opera Now, Musical Opinion, Early Music Today, Bachtrack and a range of other publications. A novelist, poet and librettist, from 1989 to 2012 he was dramaturg at Welsh National Opera.
Price – per person
Two sharing: £790. Single occupancy: £930.
First category tickets for the 2 performances; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts; 2 dinners with wine, water, coffee; travel by private coach and river boat; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
St David’s Hotel & Spa, Cardiff. St David’s Hotel & Spa, Cardiff. This is a striking building on the waterfront at Cardiff Bay, 15 minutes on foot from the opera house. The AA gives it a 5-star rating, rooms are pleasingly contemporary in design and service is excellent. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.
Between 10 and 22 participants.