|Jason Stearns, Hugo Vera, and Kian Freitas|
|Stella Zambalis and Jason Stearns|
The Martha Cardona Theater has been in existence for about five years--growing in stature and reach while accumulating a group of singers that deserve to be widely heard.
Finally, Founder and Artistic Director Daniel Cardona was ready to produce a full-length opera with a full orchestra.
For this landmark event he chose one of our favorite operas--Puccini's Tosca--and he chose to present it in a semi-staged production at the mid-sized and acoustically excellent Merkin Concert Hall. By semi-staged we mean that there was minimal scenery but there was no shortage of convincing acting.
To present Tosca, one needs a larger-than-life soprano to play the eponymous heroine who is herself larger-than-life. A true diva, soprano Stella Zambalis exhibited such familiarity with the nuances of the role that she actually became the 19th c. diva in love with the painter Cavaradossi. With a sizable soprano and convincing acting one could not have asked for more. To see her attack the evil Scarpia was to tremble in one's seat.
The role of Scarpia was performed by baritone Jason Stearns who captured our ears (if not our hearts) with his oily menace. He made the perfect villain and we would have been happy to see him die, were it not for the fact that we wouldn't hear his voice in Act III!
Bass Matthew Curran made a fine Angelotti, even though onstage only briefly. His voice had a fine quality and his acting was convincing.
Even more impressive was bass-baritone Kian Freitas who created a most believable Sacristan; he became a real character, a priest who snooped in the basket of food and exhibited a number of other small believable gestures. Previously unknown to us, we wish to hear more of him.
Tenor Hugo Vera sang well but over-acted the part of Spoletta, over-reacting to every nuance of everyone else's lines. We picture Spoletta as more contained, more severe and less sneering. Actually, baritone Samuel McDonald was far more believable as Sciarrone and sang with lovely tone and phrasing.
Lead tenor Ta'u Pupu'a as Cavaradossi was a bit disappointing. We have heard him before and he was not his best for this performance. He seemed to be pushing his upper register and lacked the requisite chemistry with Ms. Zambalis in Act I. He did improve over the course of the evening and was most touching in Act III as he faced death.
No one was credited with Stage Direction and one got the impression that each singer contributed ideas. Most of them worked well. We are quite sure that Mr. Cardona himself had a lot of directorial input. We forgot that there was no church, no Castel San'Angelo. The character's interaction told us everything.
We particularly enjoyed the duet between Mr. Freitas and Mr. Pupu'a in Act I, the end of Act II when Tosca stabs Scarpia, and the interlude before Act III when Cavaradossi stands silently contemplating his anticipated death. Much can be communicated with body language.
There was no problem with diction. Every word was clear such that when the titles disappeared in Act III, we barely noticed.
Maestro Brian Holman's baton brought the onstage orchestra together for Puccini's glorious music; we were particularly fond of Melanie Genin's harp.
It was a fine evening; the house was packed and the entire cast received a lengthy standing ovation which they richly deserved.
We are looking forward to more fine work from The Martha Cardona Theater.
(c) meche kroop