Monday, March 28, 2011

Opera review: Staging, weak Cavaradossi mar second cast of PBO's 'Tosca'

Tiffany Abban.


By Rex Hearn

There are times when the stronger regional‭ ‬opera‭ ‬companies mount Giacomo‭ ‬Puccini‭’‬s‭ ‬Tosca to exploit every emotion: love,‭ ‬hate,‭ ‬seduction,‭ ‬torture and betrayal.‭ ‬Each is accented and the audiences go home satisfied.‭

This was not one of them.

Palm Beach‭ ‬Opera‭’‬s version,‭ ‬directed by Massimo Gasparon,‭ ‬had none of the blood lust‭ ‬one associates with this opera:‭ ‬Tosca‭’‬s knife,‭ ‬a letter opener,‭ ‬had no blood on it when she withdrew it from Baron Scarpia.‭ ‬The production reeked‭ ‬of European refinement,‭ ‬and‭ ‬the version I saw‭ ‬Saturday night was missing the chills and thrills and the energy that‭ ‬Puccini‭’‬s music infuses in it.

Opera diva Tosca is in love with the painter‭ ‬Cavaradossi.‭ ‬He‭’‬s helped a political prisoner escape from Castel Sant‭’‬Angelo,‭ ‬and faces the firing‭ ‬squad of Baron Scarpia,‭ ‬Rome‭’‬s chief of police.‭ ‬Hoping to free her lover,‭ ‬Tosca,‭ ‬almost succumbs to the wiles of Scarpia but obtains a handwritten passage to freedom from him before stabbing him to death.

But‭ ‬Scarpia has the last word.‭ ‬Instead of dummy bullets,‭ ‬which he and Tosca agreed to,‭ ‬Cavaradossi is plugged by live shells and dies.‭ ‬To escape‭ ‬Scarpia‭’‬s pursuers,‭ ‬Tosca jumps to her death from the castle wall.

Stage director Gasparon had some original touches I hadn‭’‬t seen before.‭ ‬In Act I,‭ ‬in the church of Sant‭’‬Andrea della Valle,‭ ‬he has the choirboys circle the sacristan,‭ ‬reaching into his apron for‭ ‬“goodies‭”‬ he keeps‭ ‬there. A deft touch.‭ ‬And,‭ ‬in the procession of church dignitaries before the service begins,‭ ‬a tall,‭ ‬regal,‭ ‬Madonna-like woman,‭ ‬dressed in white and blue, kneels opposite Scarpia.‭ ‬Was it his wife‭? ‬Or a‭ ‬depiction of the Blessed Mother‭?‬ Whatever she represented,‭ ‬it was quite effective.

In Act II,‭ ‬the director has Tosca placing the candelabra from his desk at the foot of the dead Scarpia,‭ ‬instead of arranging a cross on his chest,‭ ‬which ‭ ‬is usual.‭ ‬In Act III,‭ ‬when Cavaradossi‭ ‬asks for writing paper,‭ ‬he must fall to the ground to write his farewell to Tosca.‭ ‬Normally,‭ ‬a small table is provided.‭ ‬This new direction distracted greatly from the tenor‭’‬s last aria,‭ ‬E lucevan le stelle.

Making her debut in the role of Floria Tosca was soprano Tiffany Abban.‭ ‬At times in her recitatives,‭ ‬Abban tends to lower her head onto her chest and her sound is muffled,‭ ‬making her diction unclear.‭ ‬When she looks up the voice is expanded and its purity of tone is released through the house.

Her‭ ‬Vissi d‭’‬arte in Act II won rapturous applause,‭ ‬and indeed it was well-sung.‭ ‬She is a young dramatic soprano who‭ ‬will develop nicely over time.‭ ‬Her acting was accomplished too,‭ ‬especially in the moments after Scarpia‭’‬s death as she stealthily crept away.‭

Mario Cavaradossi,‭ ‬sung by tenor Warren Mok,‭ ‬was a disappointment.‭ ‬His voice lacks support,‭ ‬and so he pushed it to the limit.‭ ‬Consequently,‭ ‬a distinct‭ ‬“hard‭”‬ sound was produced,‭ ‬which was not very attractive to hear.‭ ‬After his early first aria,‭ ‬Recondita armonia,‭ ‬which wasn‭’‬t very good,‭ ‬it was all downhill for Mok.‭ ‬Even his‭ ‬acting was stiff and unconvincing.

Baron Scarpia was beautifully sung and acted by baritone Stephen Powell.‭ ‬Again,‭ ‬I must fall back on the word‭ ‬“refined,‭”‬ for his was a nuanced interpretation of the role of Rome‭’‬s dastardly police chief,‭ ‬guaranteed not to scare the‭ ‬11-year-old sitting two rows behind me.

Matthew Burns was just fine as the revolutionary escapee,‭ ‬Angelotti.‭ ‬His rich bass stood out ‭ ‬in Act I,‭ ‬but ‭ ‬instead of seeming like a man on the run,‭ ‬the director had him casually singing his lines‭ ‬as if there would be no trouble in slipping through Scarpia's tightly knit web.

Matteo Peirone,‭ ‬the sacristan,‭ ‬was superb.‭ ‬His lovely voice and cheeky interpretation won many hearts.‭ ‬Evanivaldo Correa was good as Spoletta,‭ ‬Baron Scarpia‭’‬s right-hand man.‭ ‬He gave‭ ‬the impression he could do the baron‭’‬s job in a trice.‭ ‬Kenneth Stavert sang Sciarrone,‭ ‬and Greta Ball‭’‬s shepherd boy was excellent,‭ ‬very boyish-sounding.‭ ‬The last three singers named are all in the Young Artists program at Palm Beach Opera.

The chorus sounded great,‭ ‬and were well-trained by Greg Ritchey.‭ ‬The orchestra also sounded particularly good under the baton of artistic director Bruno‭ ‬Aprea.‭ ‬They made lovely music all night long.

At times they were so good,‭ ‬it felt better listening to their playing than watching this stage version of‭ ‬Puccini’s masterpiece.‭

The Palm Beach‭ ‬Opera‭’‬s Grand Finals Vocal Competition is set for‭ ‬3‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Sunday,‭ ‬April‭ ‬10,‭ ‬at‭ ‬the‭ ‬Kravis Center.‭ ‬Next year marks the‭ ‬50th season of the company.‭ ‬Scheduled operas are Puccini‭’‬s Madama Butterfly,‭ ‬Gounod‭’‬s Romeo et Juliette,‭ ‬and Donizetti‭’‬s Lucia di Lammermoor.‭ ‬Also scheduled are two‭ ‬gala concerts of arias and ensembles to celebrate the company‭’‬s anniversary.‭ ‬Call‭ ‬833-7888‭ ‬for more‭ ‬information.

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