Monday, May 1, 2017

Tosca at the COC

We went Sunday afternoon, April 30th 2017, to hear the première COC performance of Tosca at the Four Seasons Centre. We chose this performance first because we were anxious to hear diva Adrianne Pieczonka whom we last saw as Amelia in Un Ballo in Maschera and secondly because the commute to Toronto from Hamilton has become so arduous and unpredictable on weekdays. That didn’t work out so well but I’m going to leave it at that.

Adrianne Pieczonka as Tosca

It’s a very traditional production (a co-production with Norwegian Opera), with a very beautiful and effective set and appropriate period costumes. The orchestra, conducted by Canadian Keri-Lynn Wilson, was first rate, especially the prominent brass parts like the unison horn figure that opens Act III. The chorus was excellent as usual although the balance between the off-stage singers and the orchestra and principals on-stage was off. The choir wasn’t loud enough and it sounded like there were two pieces going on instead of the chorus music acting as the harmonic foundation for the on-stage singing.

The staging was adequate but hardly outstanding. Scarpia (Markus Marquardt) turns on heel and walks upstage and off-stage, brushing past the priest before the Te Deum scene ends which is obviously implausible. He also attempts to grope Tosca’s leg at one point which is both unnecessarily creepy and at odds with the character otherwise established. Veteran basso buffo Donato di Stefano played and sang a convincing Sacristan, but I could have done without a sexual gesture which is, I think, not period. The director also doesn't have him pick up the votive candles which Angelotti has strewn around the stage and which is, surely, his job!

The physical interplay among Scarpia, Cavaradossi (Marcelo Puente) and Spoletta worked especially well. Joel Sorenson, playing Spoletta, is smaller than either of the other singers and there was quite a lot of pushing and shoving in Act II. Scarpia knocks Spoletta to the floor and steps on his throat after learning that the police were unable to find Angelotti (Musa Ngqungwana). We see Scarpia as a physical bully and understand why his underlings are so afraid of him.

Tosca, Adrianne Pieczonka, sang beautifully and acted effectively throughout. Some of the highest notes were not as perfect as one might hear on a recording. She sang the Vissi D’arte seated, not even rising for the climatic phrases which seemed a little odd. I’ve only heard her live in Italian repertoire and look forward to her Arabella in the fall.

Markus Marquardt has a pronounced vibrato which mars his singing. In the second act it seemed under better control especially when he wasn’t singing full out. He was more than adequate from a dramatic point of view and died well even if the character didn’t have a good death.

Tenor Marcelo Puente was a very dramatically effective Cavaradossi and did a wonderful job of the Act III aria (E Lucevan Le Stelle). He overheld some of the high notes (Vittoria, Vittoria!). He seems to me to be at the very edge of vocal weight for this role and yet he has sung Don José (Carmen) and Manrico (Trovatore) both of which can be done by heavier voices. He has played Rodolfo (La Bohème) and Pinkerton (Madama Butterfly) which seem, to me at least, more suitable to his voice. Yet his agent’s site claims that he is working on Turridù (Cavalleria Rusticana) and Calaf (Turandot) which are ideally sung by more dramatic voices.

All the secondary roles were expertly sung and acted. The shepherd boy was sung by Clara Moir who was fine but didn’t sound like a boy. Better than a woman, I guess.

It would be worth going to hear this production only to hear Pieczonka, but, overall, it is much better than that. And if it’s among your favourite operas get tickets before the show is sold out. But beware! There is another cast of principals in alternate performances.

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