Angel Blue soars as the divine Tosca in Los Angeles

United StatesUnited States Puccini, Tosca: Chorus and Orchestra of LA Opera / Louis Lohraseb (conductor). Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles, 19.11.2022. (JRo)

Angel Blue as Tosca and Ryan McKinny as Scarpia © Cory Weaver

Production:
Director – John Caird
Sets and Costumes – Bunny Christie
Lighting – Duane Schuler
Chorus director – Jeremy Frank
Children’s Chorus director – Fernando Malvar-Ruiz

Cast:
Tosca – Angel Blue
Cavaradossi – Michael Fabiano
Scarpia – Ryan McKinny
Sacristan – Philip Cokorinos
Angelotti – Wei Wu
Spoletta – Anthony León
Sciarrone – Zachary James
Jailor – Ryan Wolfe
Shepherd – Deepa Johnny

I saw this production of Tosca in 2013 (review click here) and was prepared to spend the evening revisiting its flaws and misfires. Instead, Angel Blue as Tosca absorbed me so fully that my complaints faded into the background. Her voice thrilled, her acting soared. Blue hurtled us towards the opera’s inevitable conclusion, moving from devout innocent to heroic figure, prepared to commit murder to save her honor and the life of her lover.

The strong performances of Michael Fabiano as Mario Cavaradossi and Ryan McKinny as Baron Scarpia completed the tragic trio caught up in the events surrounding the struggle for dominion over Italy in June of 1800.

Fabiano, with his galvanic tenor, managed to overcome the dark and clunky set in Act I to depict a painter at work at the Church of Sant’Andrea delle Valle. If at times he favored the robust over the intimate, particularly in his aria ‘Recondita armonia,’ he was convincing in his love for Tosca, which gave all his subsequent arias and actions their poignancy.

Michael Fabiano as Cavaradossi © Cory Weaver

In his portrayal, McKinny revealed the psychological motivation of the sexual predator – illuminating not only our time, but also the depiction of lust and rape so predominant in the mythology of the Greeks and Romans from Homer to Ovid. He gave a chilling rendition of ‘Ella verà’, exulting in his philosophy of sexual conquest. Whether portraying the bullish Stanley Kowalski in Andre Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire or Scarpia, the jaded aristocrat and chief of police, McKinny’s physical agility and expressive baritone make him a riveting performer.

Fortunately, director John Caird jettisoned some of the defects of the 2013 LAO production. This made for better pacing with less distraction from the heart of the drama. Still, the decision to set the opera around 1900 was at odds with the historical basis of the original play and opera libretto. Historically-correct sets and costumes would have made the plot more comprehensible – a plot that revolves around the loosening grip of the Hapsburg Empire as Napoleon battles in Italy, leaving Rome in chaos. A minimal staging, suggesting the original time period and environments, would have worked. The turn-of-the-twentieth-century costumes and grim sets here (a broken-down church in lieu of a splendid Baroque one, and a basement warehouse in lieu of Scarpia’s sumptuous Act II apartments), added confusion as to time and place. This is Rome, after all, not a poor village on its outskirts.

What is clear as a bell is that Angel Blue is just the diva to play the diva Tosca. She has a voice that is both warm and bright, capable of dark shadings and delicate colors. Her love duet with Fabiano in Act I was blissful, and the tragic ‘Vissi d’arte’ of Act II was heart-rending. Together, the couple made palpable the tragic innocence of their misguided belief that Cavaradossi’s execution was to be feigned and their escape condoned by Scarpia’s orders.

The LAO Orchestra conducted by Louis Lohraseb supported the singers handsomely and captured the sweeping score in all its flavors. Philip Cokorinos made an impression as the feisty Sacristan, bringing a welcome comic tinge to the role. Wei Wu’s Angelotti was fierce and vulnerable – depicting the heart of the rebel in a small but pivotal role, and Deepa Johnny was a sweet-voiced Shepherd.

But the night belonged to Angel Blue as the divine artist, Floria Tosca. She and Fabiano, her Cavaradossi, made tragically apparent what it means to sacrifice everything for art and honor.

Jane Rosenberg

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