|Megan Nielson and Paolo Buffagni as Floria Tosca and Mario Cavaradossi|
Puccini's Tosca may just be the perfect opera. It is tuneful and offers memorable arias for each principal. It reminds us how fragile are the arts and how easily trampled (trumpled) they can be. The story is a riveting one with complex characters, giving the singers many opportunities for dramatic excess, a real treat in this day and age of "whatever". These characters are living and dying for the highest of stakes.
Under the general direction of Zachary James, himself a singer, Opera Ithaca has made quite a name for itself; their bringing their productions to New York City is a treat, even when they are performing a reduced version. Only the very best singers are put onstage for our delight.
As Floria Tosca, we had soprano Megan Nielson, whose Suor Angelica, Nedda, and Tatiana had impressed us on prior occasions. The very live acoustics in the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church elicited ample overtones in her lovely instrument. "Vissi d'arte"was sung with fine details of coloration within a larger dramatic arc. Her voice is well centered and even throughout the register. She inhabited the role completely and we could not take our eyes away from her.
Although most people prefer to sit at least halfway back in the house, we ourself love to be right down front, the better to experience the intimacy. When Tosca kills the menacing Scarpia our heart was pounding. He was so hateful that we could have killed him ourself!
As Tosca's love interest we heard tenor Paolo Buffagni whose garlic infused tone originated, as we believe, in Modena, also the birthplace of the dear departed Pavarotti. Is it the Parma ham, the Parmigiano, the balsamico? Mr. Buffagni sang with ample tone and proper Italianate phrasing that is best learned in the cradle. His voice was highly resonant within the church's acoustics but he was especially moving in his Act III duet with Ms. Nielson--"O dolci mani"-- when he held back the volume in a show of tenderness.
Both of these characters are complex. Tosca is as ready to sacrifice her Catholic morality for Cavaradossi as she is to torment him about the model for his painting of the Virgin Mary. Cavaradossi adores his lady love but shoves her aside to minister to his friend Angelotti who has escaped from prison. He risks his own life to protect his friend.
There is nothing complex about the character of Baron Scarpia. He is evil through and through, as are all politicians who prey upon their own citizens. Particularly resonant to where we are in 2018 is his sense of entitlement to women, not for pleasure but as a show of power. In Act I, the most significant feeling was one of menace. In Act II, he made an attempt to decorate his lust with seductiveness. Michael Nyby gave his all vocally and dramatically.
Jake Stamatis performed the role of Cesare Angelotti; Benno Ressa injected the role of the Sacristan with enough humor to set us up for the tragedy to come. Andrew Hudson-Sabens made a fine Spoletta and Nathan Murphy served well as Sciarrone and later as a jailer. Rachel Silverstein sang the beautiful aria of the Shepherd Boy, strangely dressed in white, looking more like an angel than a shepherd boy.
Without benefit of titles, the audience relied on the narration of stage director Ellen Jackson, which was quite clear and detailed. What we saw was halfway between a concert version and a full production. Although Ms. Nielson and Mr. Buffagni acted their parts off the book, Mr. Nyby and the others were mostly trying to act holding the score. We would have preferred otherwise.
Ms. Jackson staged the opera well, making use of the church balcony for Cavaradossi's painting and his interaction with the fugitive Angelotti. A twist in the plot dealt rather successfully with weaponry. There would have been no safe way for Tosca to jump to her death so she killed herself with Scarpia's pistol--the same one she used to kill him in Act II, having swiped it from his jacket pocket. It was a bit strange to see the pistol dangling out of her pocket in Act III but it solved the problem. The firing squad in the final scene was left to the imagination of the audience.
The thirteen singers in the chorus did well with the "Te Deum" in Act I and as the musical entertainment in Act II where they stood off to the side. There was one member of the chorus who knew his part without the book and we give him props for that!
Gordon Schermer conducted and played the piano score while J. David Williams performed at the impressive church organ for the "Te Deum".
We loved feeling so involved with the action and we loved hearing some very fine voices. The transportation issues of getting to Brooklyn evaporated with the heat of the performances.
(c) meche kroop