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Tosca Almost Triumphant

Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
05/13/2005 -  and 19, 22, 25, 28, 31 May 2005
Giacomo Puccini: Tosca
Salvatore Licitra (Cavaradossi), Juan Pons (Scarpia), Ines Salazar (Tosca), Philip Skinner (Angelotti), Peter Joshua Burroughs (Spoletta), John Marcus Bindel (Sciarrone), Valeriano Lanchas (Sacristan), Robert Cantrell (Jailer), Christopher Stuff (Sheperd)
Frank Corsaro (director), Alexand4r Beliaev (set design), Lena Rivkina (costume design), Joan Sullivan-Genthe (lighting design)
Leonard Slatkin (conductor)
Washington National Opera Chorus and Orchestra

When operatic thoughts of love, lust, and murder come to mind, the mind most often turns to one of the great tales in the literature—Tosca. Its staying power on most top ten lists attests to its dramatic impact and equally dramatic score with its sweeping scope, scale, and, of course, those great arias. The Washington National Opera’s production of this time-favored hit, hit most marks required to make Tosca the chilling and thrilling evening’s entertainment it can be.

This wasn’t just another Tosca, however. It was one that featured one of today’s top tenors, one of a few often talked of in terms of being the next Pavarotti or Domingo (not that Domingo has begun to stand still musically or vocally)—Salvatore Licitra. This is the fellow who literally stepped in for Pavarotti in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Tosca three years ago. Whether he achieves the staring heights the hype has afforded him remains to be seen. He’s young and only time will tell. But, there’s no mistaking the fact that, currently, he’s one of the exciting tenor sounds on the scene.

Licitra brings to the stage a comfortable dramatic quality that enhances his clear, resonant sound, making him a compelling character and performer. As the artist in love with Tosca, Licitra brought great passion, credibility and clarity to the role.

For as superb a job as Licitra delivered, however, it was Juan Pons who captivated attention as the evil Scarpia. Pons not only possesses a warm, rounded baritone, but also a magnetic stage presence. He epitomized the suave and sinister police chief. In fact, Pons could easily set the standard for this deliciously evil role. The combination of his engaging voice and characterization made his Scarpia a sensation. While one appreciated his character being murdered, such was the pleasure of watching and listening to him that one slightly wished him to hang around a bit longer.

Rounding off the principals was Venezuelan soprano Ines Salazar as Tosca. Assuredly, Salazar easily held her own vocally against Licitra and Pons and the opera orchestra, which cut no singer any slack during the performance. Her soprano is focused, strong, lyrically styled, and appropriately dramatic. With two such theatrically adept companions, anything less than a well-defined portrayal would be obvious, which was the case here. Had Salazar’s characterization found more dramatic intent or dimension, it would have made the theatrical part of the affair equally as triumphant as the vocal.

Quite commendable performances were likewise turned in by Philip Skinner as Angelotti, Peter Burroughs as Spoletta, and John Bindel as Sciarrone. The Washington National Opera chorus, as usual, performed with éclat.

Frank Corsaro’s stage direction was much as it was when he directed the company’s production in 2000. Some of the same questions from that production remain, primarily why the Act II exit of Tosca, following Scarpia’s murder, still didn’t include the poignant and telling action of Tosca placing candles around the body and delivering the sign of the cross or placing a crucifix on or near him as a last rite. This bit of stage business caps off in a chilling manner the dastardly deed done. Not blending it into the series of actions lessens the impact of the murder. One also wonders why Corsaro still had the guards standing on the parapet of the Castel Sant’Angelo firing down into the courtyard at Cavaradossi and then having Tosca scamper up the steps from the courtyard to the parapet, where the guards were just shooting, before leaping to her death. They’re still up there when she throws herself off the parapet. It just doesn’t pass the “makes sense” criterion. And speaking of murder, one wondered how Scarpia died without a noticeable sign of blood on him. In this production, Tosca stabs Scarpia again and again, over and over and Yet where was the blood. This was standard Theater 101 business that was noticeably lacking.

Although the opening night performance reportedly found things not even between conductor Leonard Slatkin and the performers, this performance found things in excellent shape. Slatkin’s conducting was decisive and supportive and allowed a fine balance between the pit and the stage, making this Tosca a musically satisfying event.

John C. Shulson



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