Most of the time when a substitution is announced, there is an outcry of disappointment. Not so this time, when celebrated young tenor Brian Jagde assumed the role of Cavaradossi in Santa Fe Opera's excellent production of Puccini's Tosca. Scheduled to sing the role at the San Francisco Opera next season, Mr. Jagde stepped in with aplomb, singing with admirable luminosity and acting the part with consummate conviction. Having enjoyed his performance as Elemer in Strauss' Arabella a few nights ago, we were thrilled with the opportunity to hear him in a major role. His voice warmed up beautifully and his "E lucevan le stelle" was heartbreaking. His vocal and dramatic skills were perfectly matched with those of his Florio Tosca, the South African soprano Amanda Echalaz. The two of them were completely convincing in their attraction to one another, such that we admit to a bit of weeping at the final curtain.
Equally impressive was baritone Raymond Aceto in the role of Scarpia, one of the most hateful villains in all of operadom. Slimy, oily, evil, powerful and extremely dangerous, this Scarpia was also seductive. All of these qualities were superbly created with vocal and dramatic finesse. Smaller roles were well cast and well performed; we especially enjoyed the Sacristan of Dale Travis whom we had previously enjoyed as Count Waldner in Arabella. He added appreciable notes of humor in his portrayal, snitching food and wine from Cavaradossi's picnic basket and singing with his mouth full; this comic relief did well in setting off the tragedy to come. Zachary Nelson excelled as the frightened Cesare Angelotti whom Cavaradossi was trying to help. Dennis Petersen was appropriately scary as the police agent Spoletta.
Much credit must be given to director Stephen Barlow for retaining validity of time and place, thus honoring the intentions of Puccini and his librettists Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica. The director's notes state that he did a successful production updated to London in the 60's but we are personally grateful that the Santa Fe production reverted to authenticity. The production was traditional but there were some interesting twists which we are reluctant to reveal but which clarified some of the plot holes. All of the stage business was apt and relevant, contributing the forward momentum. Indeed, this is one opera in which economy is evident--there is not a wasted action or word or note.
Costumes and sets by Yannis Thavoris suited the story and provided beauty as well. Sets were simple but did the job of suggesting the Church of Sant' Andrea del Valle, the Farnese Palace and Castel Sant' Angelo. In line with the theme of the opera--the destruction of art by politics--we see the golden cupola overturned.
In honor of Santa Fe, Tosca's gown in Act II is rendered in turquoise, rather than the customary red, and what a gorgeous gown it is! The scene in Act II allowed Tosca to demonstrate her extreme ambivalence toward killing Scarpia, much as Act I permitted Cavaradossi to demonstrate his being torn between Tosca's demands for attention and the needs of the fugitive Angelotti.
Musical values were up to their customary high standards. The reknowned conductor Frederic Chaslin led the orchestra through their paces and kept the tension at the correctly high level without ever rushing or overpowering the singers.
Although we find comparisons odious for the most part, we can't help mentioning how much more we enjoyed this production compared with the latest incarnation of Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera. And you can quote me on that! We calls 'em as we sees/hears 'em!
(c) meche kroop