Fatal Beauty: Tosca at the San Diego Opera (24 January 2009)Jan 25, 2009 Write an essay on this topic.
The Bottom Line San Diego Opera's 2009 season is off to a good start with a stellar production of Tosca. Check it out at Civic Theater!
Puccini's TOSCA at the San Diego Opera (Civic Theater in Downtown)
Directed by Andrew Sinclair.
Edoardo Müller conducts the San Diego Symphony Orchestra
Timothy Todd Simmons/ San Diego Opera Chorus and Children's Chorus
with: Sylvie Valayre (Floria Tosca), Marcus Haddock (Mario Cavaradossi), Greer Grimsley (Baron Scarpia), Jamie Offenbach (Cesare Angelotti/Sciarrone), Scott Sikon (Sacristan), Joseph Hu (Spoletta)
Opera is back to San Diego with Saturday night's premier of Tosca by Giacomo Puccini at the Civic Theater in Downtown. Armed with complimentary orchestral level ticket bestowed upon me by the San Diego Opera for an honest review of the performance, I invaded the auditorium expecting a gloriously bloody night to kick start my weekend with... and so must regretfully report that no blood spatter made it to my row even though plenty of good music and drama did.
Tosca is one of the most popular opera on the standard repertoire for good reasons. It has some of Puccini's most beautiful and pictorial music, the plot can be grippingly psychodramatic, it has lots of torturing of both the tenor and the soprano, and one of the most alluringly villainous bass-baritone roles on the planet. Set in Rome during the Napoleonic War, the famous opera star Floria Tosca and her lover, the painter Mario Cavaradossi, get in the way of Baron Scarpia's pursue of the escaped political prisoner, Cesare Angelotti. Finding the woman he fancies finally within his unwholesome reach, Scarpia offers to spare Cavaradossi's life if Tosca would join him in bed. It's an offer no good and hot-blooded Italiana could accept and one no good lover could refuse... If you want to know how it ends, Tosca is playing at the San Diego Civic Theater on January 27, 30, Feb 1, 4. Tickets starting as low as $35 these days!
This Jean Pierre Ponnelle staging of the opera is very traditional, wonderfully realistic and beautiful. The set of Sant' Andrea church in Act I and Scarpia's room in the Farnese Palace in Act II are easy on the eyes without distracting attention away from the singers. The final Act's Castel Sant' Angelo is a superb blend of a dramatic mood-setter and space management. Andrew Sinclair's stage direction is beyond reproach; the whole cast always look like they know what they're doing. Mr. Sinclair uses the whole stage and moves the chorus and cast members around smoothly.
(You can find photos from this Tosca production at www.sdopera.com/pressphotos/Tosca.aspx )
The musical performance was really good and dramatic. Maestro Edoardo Müller and the San Diego Symphony delivered a brisk and beautifully moody reading from the orchestra pit, though they were occassionally too loud. I suspect the folks up in the balcony was treated to some really awesome orchestral sound for it, though. And the San Diego Opera Chorus under Timothy Todd Simmons was its usual dependable self.
In the title role of Tosca is the French soprano, Sylvie Valayre; a dramatically apt singing actress with a strange mezzo-ish dark voice that took me a bit to get used to. It is rather nasal for Italian diction, is sizable... though with occassionally spreaded top notes. She started off with a tremolo which then stabilized into a quick-ish vibrato by the beginning of the 2nd Act. Her 'Vissi d'arte' wasn't pretty, but fittingly vulnerable and dramatically effective. The weird thing is... the bottom part of her range is more imposing than the top is; and so she got a bit vocally overshadowed in her scenes with Cavaradossi (who has a stronger top) and Scarpia (no soprano has a voice big enough on its lower end to compete with a bass-baritone like Grimsley anyhow). On the whole, though, she is a Tosca who easily convinces as a famous actress whose skirt every man wants to get under and who carries the drama well. I think the ending was a bit underacted and the leap doesn't traumatize like it should (after all, she does really jump).
As Tosca's beloved painter, Mario Cavaradossi, is Marcus Haddock, a young American tenor with a dashing stage charisma and a very pleasant virility to his voice. This is a young and palpably idealistic Cavaradossi who can be a tad annoyingly kissy with his Tosca (he's better off giving her two or three earth-shattering kisses and then spending the rest of his scenes with her being ardently still while she sings rather than to keep pecking away at her neck all opera long.... especially in the final scene when the character should have grown a bit since Act I). Aside from that, however, he very nearly stole the show from the title role and delivered a very moving 'E lucevan le stelle' in the final Act.
Baron Scarpia of Greer Grimsley is.... what can I say? He was just flawless in everyway on Saturday night! A Scarpia who is both physically and vocally imposing, whose very slyness oozes from everynote he sings, who is utterly successful at being both repulsive and charming all at once.... Heck, he even managed to match the overwhelming volume of the orchestra at the end of the 'Te Deum' even though the brass players where practically turning blue blowing the roof off the Civic Theater. There have been many great Scarpias in the past few decades, and Mr. Grimley's is another one to remember, I think.
All the minor roles are well sung and acted. Scott Sikon provided some comic relief as Sacristan, Joseph Hu was practically Scarpia's soul mate as Spoletta, and Jamie Offenbach made the most of his double roles of Angelotti and Sciarrone.
If you are in San Diego area and want to spice up some evenings on the town this month, check out Tosca at the San Diego Civic Theater. It's a good excuse to indulge in both culture and human drama at the same time to the tune of some of the most romantic music you've ever heard. Twenty dollar rush tickets are offered 90 minutes before showtime nowadays when the performance isn't sold out. That's a real bargain!
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