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HGO's Tosca Takes No Prisoners

Brown Theater, Wortham Center
01/22/2010 -  & January 30, February 3, 5, 7, 2015
Giacomo Puccini: Tosca
Robert Gleadow (Angelotti), Steven Condy (Sacristan), Alexey Dolgov (Mario Cavaradossi), Patricia Racette (Floria Tosca), Raymond Aceto (Baron Scarpia), Shon Sims (Spoletta), Michael Sumuel (Sciarrone), Eliza Masewicz (Young Girl), Adam Cioffari (Jailer)
Houston Grand Opera Orchestra, Chorus and Children's Chorus, Karen Reeves (children's chorus director), Patrick Summers (conductor)
John Caird (director), Bunny Christie (set and costume designer), Duane Schuler (lighting designer), Brian Byrnes (fight director)

(© Felix Sanchez)

Houston Grand Opera's new production of Tosca, custom tailored to the company by director John Caird and set and costume designer Bunny Christie, is an absolute triumph. The magnetism of the opera itself, with three of Puccini's greatest characters sketched in page after page of his strongest music, is allowed to speak for itself. Orchestra, chorus and soloists are united by the incisive baton of Patrick Summers, and the result is a non-stop ride of staggering intensity. To put it briefly, this is how Tosca should be done.

Mirroring the dramatic musical gestures that open each of the opera's three acts, an enormous, blood-spattered scrim is torn asunder to reveal the beautiful, elaborate and realistic sets. Exaggerated theatrics abound onstage, but never cross into caricature, and Summers likewise lets his orchestra, the best in town, unleash walls of glorious sound. There's no holding back anywhere, and this commitment must have been thrilling and comforting for Patricia Racette, who was tackling the imposing title role for the first time.

Possessing an even, flexible and powerful voice from middle to high C, Racette creates a fearless portrayal of a woman whose fervent faith in God pushes her to unthinkable acts. Cooing playfully as the jealous beloved in Act I, alternating venomous outbursts with despondent pleas and contrite submission in Act II, and adding a glorious ringing triumph to her voice that is suddenly flipped to scathing vengeance in Act III, this is a completely engaged, thoughtful and virtuosic rendition. Alexey Dolgov matches Racette in every department, giving a passionate, powerful and unabashedly romanticized portrayal of Cavaradossi. "Recondita armonia" immediately establishes his prowess among the cast, and his confident portrayal of the doomed painter is touching indeed. The lovers' two big duets in the outer acts are glorious, the voices feeding off each others' power and flexibility and blending wonderfully in their a capella "Trionfal...di nova speme."

The remainder of the cast is vocally very strong if overshadowed by the two leads. Raymond Aceto's Scarpia often comes perilously close to overacting, and he and Steven Condy as the Sacristan can't project over the tutti orchestra the way Racette and Dolgov can. Scarpia comes across as one-dimensional, but that makes the audience thirstier for his demise. The chorus sings with their reliable, supreme standards, and is especially impressive in their challenging offstage work. The HGO orchestra, always radiant in Italian opera, cannot be praised highly enough. Summers clearly relishes this score, and his exuberance is infectious. It is always wonderful to be thrilled anew by a warhorse like Tosca, and this production does just that.

Marcus Karl Maroney



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