|Jose Heredia, Dilara Unsal, and Jonathan Green (photo by Nathan Hull) in Tosca|
Every small opera company in New York occupies a different niche and we value Amore Opera for bringing the classics up close and personal while utilizing a full orchestra. Some operas belong on the stage of The Metropolitan Opera and some seem to demand a more intimate venue. We never thought so about Tosca but last night's experience demonstrated what a very personal story this is.
We were asking ourselves what is so special about Tosca that we never tire of it. First of all, Puccini's work is so melodic that the tunes dance around one's head long after one leaves the opera house, and his orchestrations are lavish. The libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa is filled with romantic and political passion--so refreshing in the current era of irony; the story was adapted from an earlier play by Sardou.
The opera had a difficult conception with lots of turmoil but somehow the conflicts got resolved and we were left with a work of astonishing power and a straightforward arc from start to finish without the longueurs that plague some other operas. One dare not snooze in Tosca, not even for a minute.
Furthermore, the opera offers three starring roles that allow great singers the opportunity to show their vocal and dramatic chops. Opening night of Amore Opera's production took place in the comfortable Riverside Theater and put three superlative singers onstage. There are alternating casts for tonight's performance and for the Sunday matinee and the production will go onstage next week Wednesday through Sunday. We looked over the casting and feel comfortable recommending all of them, having recognized singers of whom we hold a high opinion.
But let's talk about last night. In the title role, soprano Dilara Unsal was in full command of her prodigious talents--a sizable soprano with great power to cut through Puccini's dense orchestration, and a total commitment to her character. She was every inch a diva, self-possessed and demanding of attention and adoration--but also very loving and devoted to her man. Caught in Scarpia's net, she sang "Vissi d'arte" as finely as we've ever heard.
In the role of the painter Mario Cavaradossi, tenor Jose Heredia used his fine instrument well, creating a warm and full-throated sound without the pushing that bothers us in so many young tenors. He begins the opera as a carefree young man in love, delighting us with "Recondita armonia". Then he must mollify the jealous Tosca with a beautifully rendered aria "Qual'occhio al mondo".
He must then cope with his panic stricken friend Angelotti (portrayed by bass Kofi Hayford) who has just escaped from prison. Then he must deal with cross-examination and torture ordered by the evil Scarpia and his anger at what he believes to be Tosca's betrayal. And finally he must deal with a premature death. "E lucevan le stelle" was sung with great depth of feeling.
Tosca's arrival at the prison has him praising her tenderly with "O dolci mani". All of these emotional shifts were captured by Mr. Heredia with vocal coloration and dynamic variation.
With his excellent baritone, Jonathan Green made a persuasive Scarpia, the man we love to hate. Scarpia is one of the most loathsome characters in the operatic canon. He uses his political power to intimidate and force himself on Tosca. (We think of the current Harvey Weinstein scandal in Hollywood. Plus ca change plus c'est la meme chose.) When Tosca stabs him and cries "Mori, mori", we smile with satisfaction.
Tenor Marc Khuri-Yakub made a believable Spoletta, acting on Scarpia's orders and taking his abuse. Bass Trey Sandusky performed the role of Sciarrone, Scarpia's orderly.
Baritone Gennadiy Vysotskiy added some humor in Act I, portraying the judgmental and devout Sacristan of the church in which Cavaradossi is doing his painting.
Isabella Reichenbach was inaudible as a young shepherd.
Which brings us to the issue of the orchestra. The Riverside Theater is a comfortable theater but the orchestra "pit" is not exactly sunken and only the strong voices of the principals were consistently audible. Maestro Richard Cordova did his best to control the volume but Puccini's orchestration is dense. The brasses came on strong in the beginning and we enjoyed the work of the winds and percussionist. But oh, those strings! There were significant problems with intonation.
Direction by Nathan Hull was as apt as ever. Costume Design by Cynthia Psoras was a propos. The opera is set exactly a century before it was written, at the time of the turn of the 18th c. when Napoleon was returning to take over the papal province of Rome from the Neapolitans. The Empire costuming seemed just right.
Sets were probably left over from the days of Amore's predecessor, Amato Opera; they seemed shopworn but served the purpose. We came for the singing which was glorious, not for the sets.
Although Amore Opera is famous for its productions of the classics, we would be remiss if we did not mention La Zingara, a rarely produced opera by Donizetti which we absolutely loved last Spring during its American premiere! (The review is archived and available through the "search bar".) There will be a reprise on October 24 and a matinee on October 28th. If you missed your chance last season, now's your chance for a fun evening which balances the Puccini tragedy quite well.
(c) meche kroop