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Claustrophobic, doom-laden and effective

The Alice Busch Opera Theater
07/09/2010 -  and July 11, 16, 24, 26, 29, 31*, August 3, 7, 10, 13, 16, 19, 21, 24, 2010
Giacomo Puccini: Tosca
Lise Lindstrom (Floria Tosca), Adam Diegel (Mario Cavaradossi), Lester Lynch (Baron Scarpia), Robert Kerr*/Will Liverman (Sacristan), Aaron Sorensen (Cesare Angelotti), Dominick Rodriguez (Spoletta), Zachary Nelson (Sciarrone), Xi Wang (Shepherd), Jonathan Lasch (Jailer)
Glimmerglass Opera Chorus, Bonnie Koestner (Chorus Master), Glimmerglass Opera Orchestra, David Angus (Conductor)
Ned Canty (Director), Donald Eastman (Sets), Matthew Pachtman (Costumes), Jeff Harris (Lighting)

L. Lynch & L. Lindstrom (© Karli Cadel/Glimmerglass Opera)

Puccini’s Tosca has probably received more critical vilification than any other opera - and why would Glimmerglass even bother with such a chestnut? For one thing, Glimmerglass typically performs at least one chestnut each season - last year it was La Traviata, next year it will be Carmen. And the 2010 production of Tosca focuses on the very essence of the work, namely the fraught relationships between the three principals - the very reason the work has defied critical opprobrium for 110 years and counting.

Director Ned Canty and designer Donald Eastman have updated the action to post-World War I era, during the nascent fascist movement. I have seen many operas updated to that era (I Pagliacci at La Scala, Rodelinda at Glyndebourne, Rigoletto in Seattle) and it always seems to work as a time and place for subterfuge carried out amidst a threatening atmosphere of distrust.

Fittingly the production has the look of postwar austerity. The chapel in Act I is obviously a dark corner of a larger church. Scarpia’s quarters in Act II often give the audience a dose of grandeur, but in this case a once-grand salon has been pressed into service as a down-at heels interrogation room.

Lester Lynch manages to dominate every scene he is in, and is the scariest, meanest Scarpia I have seen since Louis Quilico performed it back in the 1970s. Quilico portrayed a corrupt middle-aged man who was smugly aware he could always get what he wants. With Mr. Lynch, Scarpia is a younger man who has recently discovered he can get away with murder and relishes the fact. His Act II Ha più forte sapore (For myself the violent conquest) was delivered with such vehemence I was afraid his voice might run off the rails - but no, the apparent outburst was under full control. A Force Five Hurricane - but controlled.

I was impressed by tenor Adam Diegel last summer at the Savonlinna Opera Festival, where he was a notably enthralling Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly. (No small feat, considering Pinkerton is opera’s most notorious cad.) He is equally striking as Cavaradossi. His voice has the requisite Italianate ring and a slightly old school delivery - I’ll swear I heard a hint of a sob in a couple of places. This could gain him a good deal of both audience fervour and critical disfavour. I like to think there is still room in the world for such a heart-on-sleeve approach. (He makes his Met debut in September as Froh in Das Rheingold, a short role that allows the tenor a few shining moments. Listen for him.) He even injects a note of humour when, in Act I, Cavaradossi, although he adores Floria VERY much, wishes she would leave the church so he can get on with his work.

Lise Lindstrom seems to make a specialty of the role of Turandot and her voice is at its best in the higher reaches. But it certainly encompasses Tosca - plus she has an elegant presence and looks sensational in the early-twenties fashions.

I’ve never heard this opera in such a relatively small theatre (985 seats). This only serves to heighten the claustrophobic nature of the protagonists’ plight, especially in this dark production and its focus on the three principles. David Angus’s committed handling of the score further serves this end. One regrets the two intermissions that interrupt the work’s doomed trajectory.

Michael Johnson



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