Review: ‘Tosca’ presented by Verismo Opera in Vallejo

by Charles Kruger

This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

The joys of Grand Opera, in the view of too many, are for a privileged few. It can only be seen, they assume, in huge opera houses by an audience dressed in tuxedos and diamonds, spending hundreds of dollars for tickets. Quite often, there are more than a hundred performers onstage, orchestras with musicians numbering in the dozens, sets towering 30 feet into the air, lighting effects that can mimic a starlit night in Vienna, or the halls of a grand European mansion, costumes of the finest silk and velvet. The singers are rarefied creatures flown in for each occasion from the greatest cities around the world, delicate, rare talents who alone can deliver the goods.

It is not surprising that the average Joe (although never the average Giuseppe) would choose to stay home.

If you are curious about opera, but not quite prepared to brave the daunting pilgrimage to San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House, you would do well to check out Puccini’s “Tosca” presented by Verismo Opera in Vallejo.

The singers presented by this small, semi-professional company (producing opera in Vallejo for seventeen seasons)  are capable and sincere, if not extraordinary. Much can and should be forgiven for the opportunity to hear grand opera in an intimate setting where the performers’ love of the work is as palpable as it can possibly get.

The tragic story tells of the sad fate of opera prima donna,  Flora Tosca, who lives for art, but is caught up in the web of the evil Scarpia who has arrested her lover and is torturing him for information about political enemies. On a small and intimate stage, audiences may find that the details of the plot are more accessible than they might be in a huge opera house, and newcomers to the art will be relieved that it is not at all difficult to understand.

While you won’t hear the kind of virtuosic singing you’d encounter at SF Opera or the Metropolitan, the performers at Verismo Opera are hardly  amateurs. No one can sing grand opera without some level of professional training.

The stage direction by Frederick Winthop is robust and clear, never phony or dull. Musical Director Michael Moran keeps the small orchestra on its toes, and Juliiard-trained pianist Keenan Boswell provides percussive drive and clarity to the score.

Most of the roles are played by different performers throughout the run. On the night I attended, Eliza O’Malley was a convincingly passionate Tosca, and the chemistry generated between her and Frederick Winthrop as Mario was impressive. Winthrop’s acting and singing was distinguished by an admirably touching emotional directness.

It is a pleasure to experience this music in a small house and opera lovers and newcomers will ceratinly be pleased by this capable “Tosca.”

“Tosca” continues at the Mira Theatre in Vallejo through April 1st. For further information, click here.


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