The Boston Lyric Opera’s current production, adapted from the Scottish Opera, is updated, but this does no real damage. The three locales are properly preserved. And the three principal characters—opera diva Floria Tosca, her lover Mario Cavaradossi, and the lusting and villainous Baron Scarpia—hit their mark solidly.
By Caldwell Titcomb.
Some years ago the noted musicologist Joseph Kerman published a widely read and controversial book entitled Opera as Drama. The works he most admired were Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, Verdi’s Otello, Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, Berg’s Wozzeck, and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress. A reasonable choice indeed. But when he wrote of Puccini’s Tosca, he branded the opera “that shabby little shocker”—the most often cited words in the book. A shocker, perhaps, with its torture, murder, and suicide. It is, however, neither shabby nor little.
Tosca is based on Sardou’s 1887 play, written for the celebrated actress Sarah Bernhardt, with a libretto by Puccini’s favorites, Giacosa and Illica. Puccini had arguments with both Sardou and his librettists, but he wound up with a text for which he wrote one of the finest scores in all opera, superbly orchestrated. This was his most dramatic effort, with a premiere in 1900, and it has never fallen out of favor (except with Kerman).
The Boston Lyric Opera’s (BLO’s) current production, adapted from the Scottish Opera, is updated, but this does no real damage. The three locales are properly preserved. And the three principal characters—opera diva Floria Tosca, her lover Mario Cavaradossi, and the lusting and villainous Baron Scarpia—hit their mark solidly.
The yardstick for this opera is the 1957 Rome recording (rereleased on CD in 1999), featuring the Tosca of Zinka Milanov, the Cavaradossi of Jussi Bjoerling, and the Scarpia of Leonard Warren, with Erich Leinsdorf on the podium. This is a performance that any other cast should aspire to.
Remaining performances of the Boston Lyric Opera production of Tosca take place at the Shubert Theatre on November 7 and 14 at 3 p.m., with 7:30 performances on November 10, 12, and 16.
The BLO’s Tosca is soprano Jill Gardner, who has sung the role before. She has a reasonably big voice, easily able to compete with the full orchestra. She captures Tosca’s egotism, jealousy, and anguish. What is missing is the grandeur that Milanov conveyed on stage. Tosca’s most famous number, the Act 2 aria “Vissi d’arte,” Gardner sang sitting on a narrow bed, falling to the floor at the end.
Cavaradossi, a portrait painter, is in the hands of Mexican tenor Diego Torre, who is new to Boston. He is short and stocky—even shorter than Gardner. But he does well in his solos and partners Gardner admirably in their duets.
Scarpia is Bradley Garvin, tall and imposing. His singing is strong, and there’s no doubt he is an odious personage and deserves what he gets, even though he has a triumph that occurs after his death.
The rest of the cast is certainly acceptable. Russian baritone Anton Belov is the escaped prisoner Angelotti, whom Cavaradossi tries to help. Tenor Neal Ferreira is Scarpia’s underling. Bass-baritone T. Steven Smith is the Sacristan, who provides a few smiles in Act 1 though his voice is not quite strong enough. One of Puccini’s charming touches is the Act 3 presence of a Shepherd Boy—here called the Jailer’s Son—whose short ditty is sung by 13-year-old Natick resident Ryan Williams.
Stage director David Lefkowich has done good work in handling a large cast, including children and adults for the Te Deum that closes the first act and that Stravinsky paraphrased at the end of his “Symphony of Psalms” (even in the same key). At the conclusion of Act 2, however, Tosca, having rightly placed candles at the sides of Scarpia’s corpse, is supposed to place a crucifix on his chest but instead throws it aside on the floor—hardly an act of piety.
Puccini wrote some tricky rhythms into his score, but conductor Andrew Bisantz had his 56 instrumentalists playing with precision at the first performance (Nov. 5). There was a chorus of 24 plus seven members of the PALS Children’s Chorus. It all added up to an impressive occasion.