Striking Visuals Are Just the Beginning of This Tosca

United StatesUnited States Puccini, Tosca: Soloists, Christopher Allen (conductor), Cincinnati Opera, Aronoff Center for the Arts, Cincinnati, OH. 23.7.2016. (RDA)

 'Tosca' at Cincinnati Opera (Photo courtesy Cincinnati Opera)
Tosca at Cincinnati Opera (c) Cincinnati Opera

Tosca – Evelina Dobračeva
Mario Cavaradossi – Marcello Giordani
Baron Scarpia – Gordon Hawkins
with Evan Boyer, Peter Strummer, Marco Cammarota, Samuel Smith and Christian Pursell.

Director – Jose Maria Condem
Conductor – Christopher Allen
Designer – Robert Perdziola
Lighting designer – Thomas C. Hasse

Puccini would have been proud of the Cincinnati Opera’s Tosca, which opened on Saturday night at the Aronoff Center for the Arts.

First, there are the sets by Robert Perdziola—imaginative and yet fastidiously accurate, starting with the Act I Sant’Andrea della Valle pulpit that spins to reveal the church’s main altar for the Te Deum at the act’s end. Act II is ideal for Scarpia and devoid of any unnecessary paraphernalia, except a gigantic map of Italy and a daybed which he uses to force himself on Tosca, and Act III has an early-morning view of Rome complete with St. Peter’s dome in the distance. And, at the risk of applauding the visuals for far too long, Perdziola’s costumes are elegant and period-perfect, and Thomas C. Hasse bathes everything with light to complete perfection.

Director Jose Maria Condemi brings a complete command of the text and the music—elucidating, clarifying and highlighting key moments. At the end of Act II, the killing of Scarpia and the aftermath are as well-staged as this writer has ever seen.

From the moment the three “Scarpia chords” appear (before the curtain goes up), a bolt of energy arrives from the pit, and comes back again and again, thanks to the idiomatic conducting of Christopher Allen. He draws every bit of Puccini’s grandeur from the musicians and then delivers the key moments of lyricism with suppleness and sensitivity.

Evelina Dobračeva leaves no doubt that Floria Tosca is a diva, but her acting of the role is honest and down-to-earth. In addition to being a ravishing beauty, Ms. Dobračeva is an intelligent singer who inflects every word with meaning. And she can sing: the role is full of traps for any soprano not up to the task. Her two extended scenes with Mario and her Act II Vissi d’arte were beautifully sung, and her tug-of-war with Scarpia (also in Act II) allowed her to freely use parlando for those moments in which bel canto is not what’s needed.

Marcello Giordani has the elegance of bearing and vocal equipment to bring home both his Act I Recondita armonia and the impassioned delivery needed for the final act’s E lucevan le stelle. In between he holds his own in the company of a first-class cast, utterly believable as a dashing artist caught up in a political maelstrom. A superb spinto tenor, Giordani uses a carefree squillo to stylishly take on the high notes that abound.

Gordon Hawkins is a superb Scarpia: terrifying in the big moments, unctuous and reptilian in others, and he never resorts to barking. Instead, he but actually sings the notes, rock-solid over the entire two scenes Puccini allots him. The supporting roles were ably filled by Evan Boyer, Marco Cammarota, Samuel Smith and Christian Pursell, with bass Peter Strummer hilariously portraying the Sacristan.

The Cincinnati Opera keeps scaling new heights. Ensconced in the acoustically-superb Aronoff Center for the Arts for this and next season, the company should feel proud of its accomplishments and successes.

Rafael de Acha

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