If the question is “should I go see Tosca” the answer is always yes. The beloved story of the revolutionary artist, emotional diva and corrupt, rapist police chief is the fifth most-performed opera in the world for a reason. But that doesn’t give any indication of why any production is special and why you should see that version in particular.
The new production at the Lyric Opera brings everything you could want to this well-known and beloved opera, brilliant voices, interesting performances and gorgeous sets and costumes. The attention to every detail here brings this traditionally-staged version to vivid life.
It all begins with the firm foundation provided by the Lyric Opera Orchestra conducted by the San Francisco Opera’s new music director Eun Sun Kim, who brings intensity and drama to the familiar score. In her able hands, the music isn’t just supporting the voices, but it is also a star in itself. It reminded me of Solti more than anything else. Her conducting has real personality and would be enough to recommend this production, but the singing is just as excellent.
The company began the night with the singing of the Ukrainian National Anthem in solidarity with the members of the company with Ukrainian roots and all those fighting for democracy worldwide.
Then we were treated to the dynamic performances of Rivers Hawkins as the escaping revolutionary Angelotti, Alan Higgs who is comedy gold as the disapproving Sacristan, and Russell Thomas as our hero, artist Mario Cavadarossi. While he has absolutely gorgeous tone, I wasn’t certain that I was going to love Thomas’ performance after Recondita armonia, but he won me over as the opera went on and when he let loose in the third act with a passionate E lucevan le stelle, you can see why he was chosen for this role.
He was paired with the absolutely brilliant Michelle Bradley as the diva Floria Tosca, herself, and she brought it from the first second she was on stage. You believed her jealousy, her piety, her flirtation, her horror and hope. She delivered each note with glorious nuance and has tone for days. You need to see her play this role.
Fabian Veloz as Baron Scarpia was just gleefully evil from the second he stepped on stage until his timely demise. He sneered and growled his way through some of the most evil lyrics in all of opera and you believed every word out of him. And he sounded glorious doing it. It made Tosca’s picking up of the knife all the more righteous.
There was no part of this production that wasn’t firing on all cylinders. All the principals were extremely strong, supporting roles were well done. The costumes glorious. The looming sets grand.
My only two minor quibbles were that I would have liked to see a little more blood on Cavadarossi after he was tortured, and Tosca didn’t jump in full view of the audience. That’s been done in most of the productions I’ve seen and the dummy drop was a little anticlimactic.
But all in all it’s a splendid night at the opera.
Photography by Todd Rosenberg and Cory Weaver for the Lyric Opera.