“Tosca” … it is Puccini … what’s not to like? True, and it is probably his best opera. But LAOpera’s current production is a “Tosca” to love, not simply like. With glorious voices that are every bit a match for the soaring orchestra under James Conlon’s baton, the two hour and forty minute performance whips past surprisingly fast. Encores linger in your brain on the ride home.
Let us get down to business. If you are an opera lover, you probably have seen “Tosca” several times. But have you heard Russell Thomas as Cavaradossi? His passion is conveyed through his powerful tenor. When he mounts a scaffold that holds his unfinished painting his voice is even more magnificent. Here is a thought: can future productions make more use of this device in the Chandler? Not only does it flatter the voice, it puts the singer closer to the sub-titles which remain stubbornly above the proscenium, far from the action on stage. Thomas’ voice does not really need any form of assistance, but we have had a number of other tenors who could benefit from it.
Sondra Radvanovsky is Tosca herself. She is familiar to Los Angeles audiences from a number of roles, most notably Tosca (2013) and the title role in Suor Angelica (2008). Whether falling from great heights, or in a jealous rage her full throated tones and devotion to acting are transformative.
And then there is the prime slime ball, chief of police, Scarpia, powerfully sung by baritone Ambrogio Maestri. He cut such a sly, oleaginous figure he was able to relish the vigorous, but good humored boos he elicited from the audience. For the last four performances of “Tosca” he will be replaced by Greer Grimsley, then Kihun Yoon. For that matter, in the final performance Radvanovsky will be replaced by Melody Moore. How those substitutions will effect the production is hard to say.
I’ve said little about the production itself. Puccini wrote “Tosca” in 1900, but the action was set in 1800 as Napoleon was threatening the status quo of Italy’s domination by the Hapsburgs. Rome was in turmoil. However, costuming in this joint production by the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Houston Grand Opera is strictly gilded age, bustles and bowlers throughout. The discrepancy between periods is not necessarily disturbing, but the set did not inspire. Program notes tell the reader that the boxes of artistic artifacts in Scarpia’s office were to suggest that he collected trophies of conflict and that Tosca was to be yet another trophy. I am glad I read the program notes; otherwise I think I would have missed this detail.
Let us not drift from the point. “Tosca” is about beautiful music. This LAOpera production, with the original cast, delivers with magnificent voices and high points of operatic acting. What will transpire with later substitutions? I do not have a crystal ball.