Monday, January 23, 2012

Review: (Toronto) Tosca

COC offers the Tried and True...and Delivers
Tosca sounds and looks beautiful
by Axel Van Chee

Considered to be one of the most innovative and adventurous of all the opera companies in North America, it is interesting, and refreshing to see the Canadian Opera Company putting up a no-nonsense, traditional Tosca. After all, every opera house needs to balance its budget, and the COC is no exception to the rule. This is especially true with its upcoming, ambitious 2012- 2013 season (you really should check it out if you have not, it is alarmingly delightful), the COC needs all the money it can muster.

...Pieczonka delivers...a gratifying, carefully nuanced, internal reading of Vissi d'arte that is an absolute delight.

Revived from its 2008 production, the sets and costumes designed by Kevin Knight is detailed, saturated and oozes expensiveness. Scarpia’s apartment at the Palazzo Farnese in Act 2 is exceptionally so with its handsome furnishings, floor length windows, and gorgeous lighting.

Singing the title role, Adrianne Pieczonka who easily fills the auditorium cuts a visually alluring, but emotionally confusing figure on stage as Tosca. Pieczonka is an intelligent and passionate singer. However, this Tosca is sometimes girly, sometimes petulant, sometimes demure, sometimes in rage, and it becomes very hard to ground her, to understand who exactly she is. This is problematic especially in a convoluted melodrama with a condensed plot and perhaps the reason why most sopranos choose to portray the role with minimal dimensions. Pieczonka has delicious low and exhilarating high ranges that sometimes get the better of her. Tosca’s great aria in Act 2 is usually done with an overt and exaggerated emotion. What Pieczonka delivers however, is a gratifying, carefully nuanced, internal reading of Vissi d'arte that is an absolute delight.

Tenor Carlo Ventre sings the role of Cavaradossi with copious energy. Although he lacks a certain dramatic subtlety in his acting and most of his phrasing, he makes it up with sheer volume and force of will, with bright, suspended high notes that aim to please. His rendition of E lucevan le stelle in Act 3 is particularly affecting. This is a tenor who knows exactly what the audience wants, and they respond with plenty of bravos.

This is a Scarpia that you kind of just want to hug, and pat him on the hand for being naughty.

Making up the holy trinity of Tosca, Mark Delavan’s Scarpia is somewhat of a disappointment. The reason is actually quite simple: he is vocally and physically too nice. This is a Scarpia that you kind of just want to hug, and pat him on the hand for being naughty. It is certainly difficult to imagine Rome trembling at his feet. Act 2 sees Delavan amping up his terror factor by a few bumbling physical acts of violence, but it never comes across as menacing which the role requires. The opera begins with his motif and grounds the story in his sphere of influence after all. Delavan does provide however, warm and generous phrasings, and one of the most entertaining and convincing deaths of all the Toscas that I’ve seen.

The supporting roles are fantastic: Peter Strummer is a strong voiced, comedic Sacristan, David Cangelosi an able Spoletta, Emily Brown Gibson a sweet voiced shepherd boy, and Christian Van Horn a superb Angelotti whose role is unfortunately all too short. He would have been a thoroughly convincing Scarpia. The COC chorus is well rehearsed and dispatches a thrilling Te Deum.

It is a triumphant afternoon in the orchestra pit. For all that drama on stage, it is the COC orchestra that provides some of the most intimate and ravishing moments under Maestro Paolo Carignani, who is making his Toronto debut. Carignani is generous with the singers, carefully controlling the tempo and the volume of the orchestra without sacrificing the dramatic impact of Puccini. This is a melodrama after all and he certainly knows how to milk it for all its worth. 

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