Review: ‘Tosca’ at the San Francisco Opera (****1/2)

(Charles Kruger)

(****1/2)

Lianna Haroutounian as Tosca. Photo Credit: Cory Weaver.
Lianna Haroutounian as Tosca. Photo Credit: Cory Weaver.
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(“Tosca” plays at the War Memorial Opera House on Nov 1st, 4th and 8th, 2014.) 

Taking her bow after the opening night performance of “Tosca” at San Francisco Opera, Lianna Haroutounian was radiant. She had just pulled off the double triumph of playing Tosca on stage for the first time and making her San Francisco Opera debut. It was a stellar occasion and the thunderous applause and shouts of brava that greeted her after the final curtain were well earned. This production of Tosca is richly satisfying, and Haroutounian owns it utterly.

This is a conservative yet polished production, intended as a recreation of Armando Agnini’s production that was the first opera performed at the War Memorial Opera House in 1932. Director Jose Maria Condemi has staged it twice previously.

Far from seeming old fashioned or clunky, it is fresh, straightforward and emotionally powerful. The sets are lovely in the old tradition, beautifully crafted and convincingly realistic, particularly the final moments staged on a rooftop overlooking Rome. The costumes are scrumptious, the lighting grandly theatrical, especially the starry night ironically giving rise to a beautiful sunrise, even as the story ends in inevitable tragedy.

Lianna Haroutounian as Tosca and Brian Jagde as Cavaradossi. Photo Credit: Corey Weaver.
Lianna Haroutounian as Tosca and Brian Jagde as Cavaradossi. Photo Credit: Corey Weaver.

All of which is lovely, but unimportant if the singing and acting do not also succeed. But there is nothing to worry about on that score. The performances, from leads to supernumeraries are elegantly acted, in a straightforward, realistic style unencumbered by melodramatic stereotyping. Lianna Haroutounian and Brian Jagde set the tone as the lovers, the passionate diva Floria Tosca and the flamboyant artist and revolutionary sympathizer Mario Cavaradossi. Both are superb actors, who relate beautifully to one another always in close connection, even when singing out towards the audience. Their performance of the magnificent duet, “Amaro sol per te” is about as good as Puccini gets, and that’s mighty good. And Haroutounian’s rendering of the opera’s most famous aria, Tosca’s lament for and defense of a life given to art, “Vissi d’Arte“, deserved the shouts of brava she received on opening night, as it was not only flawlessly sung but deeply felt.

Mark Delavan as Scarpia and Lianna Haroutounian as Tosca.
Mark Delavan as Scarpia and Lianna Haroutounian as Tosca.

Mark Delevan’s Baron Scarpia is a fully realized, complex characterization rather than a cardboard villain. His rendition of “Va, Tosca” that accompanies the Te Deum at the close of Act I is very chilling.

Most importantly, this Tosca succeeds in transcending melodrama to move the audience to tears in its final moments. The close of the tragedy is rendered with dignity, authenticity and true emotion, unalloyed with schmaltz. As it should be.

Admirers of Puccini will recall that “Tosca” is a “through composed” work, in which all of the elements — arias, recitatives and choruses — are woven into a single musical whole. Conductor Riccardo Frizza and Chrous Director Ian Robertson communicate this wholeness with impressive clarity. And Jose Condemi’s staging contributes to the effect, with continuous movement used to create ever changing stage pictures that eloquently support the story. His handling of the chorus, who are constantly moving about, with and behind the main action, lends a realistic touch that is most admirable.

For further information, click here.

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“Tosca”, by Giacomo Puccini, liberetto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. Conductor: Riccardo Frizza. Director: Jose Condemi. Production Designer: Thierry  Bosquet. Lighting Director: Gary Marder. Chorus Director: Ian Robertson.

Floria Tosca: Lianna Haroutounian. Mario Cavaradossi: Brian Jagde. Baron Scarpia: Mark Delavan. Cesare Angelotti: Scott Conner. Sacristan: Dale Travis. Spoletta: Josel Sorensen. Sciaronne: Efrain Solis. Jailer: Hadleigh Adams. 

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