One would think that a reliable warhorse like “Tosca” might be a dull affair because it is performed so often, but the most recent Seattle Opera production shows that Puccini’s masterpiece still can grip audiences in the gut. The performance on opening night (January 10th) at McCaw Hall had an edge of spontaneity that made it riveting. I am referring to the intense scene in which Tosca (Lithuanian soprano Austine Stundyte) kills Scarpia (bass-baritone Greer Grimsley) with a knife. Stundyte scampered about after dispatching Grimsley). It was an impulsive moment in which Stundyte seemed to get an extra rush of adrenaline – just like it would probably happen in real life – and it was extremely effective. The other huge impression of the evening was the trumpet-like clarity of Italian tenor Stefano Secco, who sang the role of Cavaradossi. His tone quality was excellent from top to bottom. He sang effortlessly, with great emotion and plenty of power, including a wonderfully long high A at the end of “E lucevan le stele.”
Stundyte’s vocal prowess was first rate, and her singing of “Vissi d’arte” a highlight of the show, but the top end of her voice didn’t shimmer as much as Secco’s. Grimsley sang with a stentorian heft, barking orders to torture Cavaradossi, threatening Tosca with his imposing presence, and topping it all off with a smart and smug attitude.
Alasdair Elliott created a vivid impression vocally and in the acting category as the detective Spoletta. Aubrey Allicock plunged the audience into the midst of desperate situation as the political fugitive Angelotti . Peter Strummer brought just the right mix of piety and amiability to the character of the Sacristan. Barry Johnson distinguished himself in the role of the police sergeant Sciarrone, and Matthew Bratton’s plaintive voice was perfectly suited for the song of the Shepherd Boy.
Bulgarian conductor Julian Kovatchev elicited a magnificent sound from the orchestra. It became a little too magnificent at one point in the second act and actually drowned out Grimsley for a few measures, but it didn’t overwhelm the stellar sound from the chorus, expertly prepared by John Keene, during the spectacular religious procession (“Te Deum” scene) at the end of the first act.
The stage directions of Jose Maria Condemi gave this production of “Tosca” a realistic feel. The death of the evil Scarpia was so palpable that many in the audience responded with applause. The painted sets of Ercole Sormani suggested the faded glory of Rome, but the best moments came in the final act when the lighting of Connie Yun gradually changed the night sky, dotted with stars, to a morning sky, pillowed with ominous clouds. New York City Opera, which is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, provided traditional costumes that fit this production to a T.
Overall, the strong cast and superb directing from Condemi make this production of “Tosca” another feather in Seattle Opera’s cap.
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