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E lucevan i divi

Santa Fe
The Crosby Theater
06/30/2023 -  & July 5, 8, 14, 21, August 1, 7, 12,19, 23, 26, 2023
Giacomo Puccini: Tosca
Leah Hawkins*/Angel Blue (Tosca), Joshua Guerrero*/Freddie De Tommaso (Cavaradossi), Reginald Smith, Jr. (Scarpia), Blake Denson (Angelotti), Dale Travis (Sacristan), Spencer Hamlin (Spoletta), Ben Brady (Sciarrone), Kai Edgar (Shepherd boy), Dylan Gregg (Jailer)
The Santa Fe Opera Chorus, Susanne Sheston (Chorus Master), The Santa Fe Opera Orchestra, John Fiore (Conductor)
Keith Warner (Director), Ashley Martin-Davis (Scenic and Costume Designer), Allen Hahn (Lighting Designer)

R. Smith, Jr. & L. Hawkins (© Curtis Brown for SFO)

The 2023 season of the Santa Fe Opera was launched last night with a riveting Tosca. Anticipation was running high before the national anthem, with the audience dressed up–or down–to their nines, from frayed shorts to blue (yes!) tuxedos with lace jabot.

Equally anticipated in this year’s program is another standard work, The Flying Dutchman, and lesser performed Pelléas et Mélisande and Rusalka. Monteverdi’s Orfeo will be presented in a World Premiere orchestration by Nico Muhly.

But for now, onward to the church of San’Andrea Della Valle, Castel Sant’Angelo, and Palazzo Farnese. At least, we hope.

Direction and scenery design are inspired by The Enigma of the Day by Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico (1880‑1978), whose early works are cataloged as surrealist. This is a dark Tosca, set somewhere between World War I and World War II, in a film noir atmosphere with men in brown costumes or uniforms and high leather boots, while Tosca is making high‑fashion statements with haute couture gowns and coats. It is legitimate to wonder what the reference to the painting of Chirico adds to this opera, except for the aesthetics. At all moments, the stage is visually superb, enhanced by the creative lighting designed by Allen Hahn.

Leah Hawkins identifies herself with the heroine and rises as a consummate tragic figure. “Vissi d’arte...” is vibrant and stylish. Hawkins truly has a splendid voice: powerful, with a golden medium range and clear‑cut high notes. Maybe the jealous side of the character was somehow underplayed. Her “E l’Attavanti!” lacks the snarl of anger. Joshua Guerrero as Cavaradossi produces a glorious, heroic stream. His portrayal of the character is sincere, and the singing incisive. His delivery is irreproachable with no affectation. The “Recondita armonia” is a bit tense, but the voice rapidly warms up, and the rest of his score is simply splendid, culminating with an “E lucevan le stelle” that brings the house to their feet. Reginald Smith, Jr. as Scarpia disappoints. The singing line is solid, but the timbre is somewhat opaque, and the depiction of the absolute villain is not sufficiently charismatic. Dale Travis (Sacristan) does his part of comic relief, sometimes asked to do things that lack subtlety. Spencer Hamlin (Spoletta) and Blake Denson (Angelotti) are adequate and contribute to the performance’s success. As always, the SFO chorus is immaculate, standing out with Kai Edgar as the shepherd boy who demonstrates unwavering composure and grace in his solo lines.

The orthodoxy of Tosca may have been bullied here and there in the direction–no real harm done with such superb singing and conducting. Maestro John Fiore is spaciously lyrical and sharply dramatic, with a fine balance between lyricism and brightness, while consistently phrasing the Italian melody. Only the Te Deum reveals minimal congestion.

The 2023 season has kicked off in front of an ecstatic and thunderous audience.

Christian Dalzon



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