Tosca is based on Victorien Sardou’s play, La Tosca, with libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppa Giacosa. It is a story of political intrigue, murder, lust, and a jealous soprano. A Parisian critic wrote in 1900 that Tosca “is coarsely puerile, pretentious and vapid.” (The phrase “shabby little shocker” comes from musicologist Joseph Kerman’s 1956 book Opera as Drama, not from Puccini’s time.) Puerile or not, Tosca can always be counted on to sell tickets, and audiences leave humming its melodies. When done well, Tosca can be devastating.
And devastating it was. Soprano Stella Zambalis was 100% committed to Tosca from beginning to end. Her Tosca was both regal and childish, loving and self absorbed. Ms. Zambalis has had a long and distinguished career, and Tuesday's performance left little doubt of the reasons behind her success. Jason Stearns was an equally passionate Scarpia. Large of voice and commanding of presence, Mr. Stearns was every bit the equal of Ms. Zambalis in stage presence and commitment. Ta'u Pupu'a was a virile and ardent Cavaradossi.
All three principals had sung their roles at least once before, which was quite evident in watching and hearing them. Show pieces from the opera--Vissi d'arte, the Te Deum, Cavaradossi's two arias--as well as moments such as "Vittoria! Vittoria" and "O dolci mani"--were all sung and acted beautifully. All three singers had many truly stunning moments vocally, but all three also had one or two moments when fatigue or wear had a subtle effect on the most difficult vocal passages.
Smaller roles were filled with younger singers. The Angelotti of Matthew Curran and the Sacristan of Kian Freitas were particular favorites.
Brian Holman conducted a pick-up orchestra of very young-looking players. Their playing was a bit ragged--synchronization issues, missed entrances, intonation issues, balance issues with the cast--but Mr. Holman dealt with the apparent inexperience of the group and kept everything together.
The opera was semi-staged on Merkin's Concert Hall's stage. No program credit was given for a director, but I suspect it was Mr. Cardona himself. The size of the stage and the number of people on it at times made this a bit problematic. I feared the close proximity of cast to orchestra might interfere with the orchestra's playing. All three acts ended with someone on the floor, including Scarpia on one knee at the end of the Act I Te Deum, and it seemed awkward when they got up and walked off stage either with or after the conductor.
Quibbles aside, overall I call this concert a success. The rest of the audience certainly agreed with that opinion, generous with applause and shouts of "Bravo!"
|Jason Stearns||Stella Zambalis||Ta'u Pupu'a|