by Giacomo Puccini
Houston Grand Opera
January 23, 2010
Patricia Racette (Tosca) and Alexey Dolgov (Cavaradossi) in HGO’s new production of Puccini’s Tosca
Photo by Felix Sanchez
Suicide, torture, attempted rape—no, not the Fox Television hit show, 24, but Tosca, Puccini’s treasured “action” opera. John Caird’s snazzy new production at Houston Grand Opera hit all the right notes, with a stellar cast, intriguing new sets, a lively pace and just enough edge to keep us on the edge.
After all the recent hoopla over the Met’s Tosca, it’s good to see a production that is both re-visioned and reverent to tradition. Based on French playwright Victorien Sardou’s La Tosca and written especially for the iconic Sarah Bernhardt, Tosca is intensely character-driven. And what a Tosca HGO has found in the luminous soprano Patricia Racette, making her role debut.
Racettte bestowed the fiery heroine with the right blend of passion and pathos, combined with a sublime sound. Racette’s powerful presence illuminates the crucial tensions embedded in Puccini’s masterwork. The gifted soprano traverses an emotional arc that travels from flirty, jealous, and comical in the first act, to betrayed and despair-ridden murderess at the end. Her authentic rendering of the opera’s beloved aria, Vissi d’Arte, was perfection. Tenor Alexey Dolgov’s Cavaradossi is every bit a leading man and romantic painter, delivering an electrifying performance. Raymond Aceto imbued the seductive villain Scarpia with a Bruce Willis swagger and rich bass tone. It’s a viscerally exciting performance personifying evil.
Bunny Christie’s costumes and sets add to the production’s punch. The drama sits well. Christie’s cavernous gray building, complete with an ominous open ceiling, shifts from church to palace, to prison. Muted tones lend agravity to the scene, making snippets of color pop, such as Cavaradossi’s James Rosenquist-like paintings. The scale of Christie’s austere architecture amplifies the sense of tragic doom. Nothing ever turns out well in such a structure. Patrick Summers conducted the HGO orchestra with a dramatic flare