MUSIC: Tosca - WNO, Cardiff New Theatre

Like most straight producers who find themselves in the opera house, Michael Blakemore can't resist a few teases in his new Tosca for Welsh National Opera, including statuary of proto-Mussolinian gigantism, Scarpia's murder weapon impaled on a big ham (geddit?), and 'Amara sol' produced like Dennis O'Neill Sings. But in Puccini there is no top to go over, and this rather successful and stylish production (designed by Ashley Martin Davis) shows only that overstated verismo is good verismo. Cardiff's Saturday-nighters loved it.

They had their crosses to bear: 40-minute intervals while the sets were rebuilt (or so it sounded); a somewhat raucous stand-in Cavaradossi in Maurizio Saltarin (already billed, though, for later in the run); and a substitute soprano in Suzanne Murphy, Marion Vernette Moore having joined the long line of injured Toscas. But Suzanne Murphy is very far from short change in this role, and she was in top form after a squally start, admirably intense in her confrontation with Scarpia, superbly controlled in 'Vissi d'arte'. Peter Sidhom is an outstanding Scarpia: sinister in his elegance and mellifluousness as much as in his Grand Guignol diabolism. Carlo Rizzi conducts, with his usual strong feeling for line. A good evening, against the odds.

Thursday 7.15pm, Oxford Apollo (0865 244544), and on tour

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