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With this, all Miami trembles!

Colony Theatre, Miami Beach
02/25/2012 -  & February 26*, 2012
Giacomo Puccini: Tosca
Jennifer Harris (Floria Tosca), Enrique Pina (Mario Cavaradossi), Nelson Martinez (Baron Scarpia), Diego Baner (Angelotti & Jailer), Jorge Arcila (Sacristan), Jared Peroune (Spoletta), Ismael Gonzalez (Sciarrone), Erica Williams (Shepherd)
Miami Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Pablo Hernandez (chorus master), Doris Lang Kosloff (conductor)
Raffaele Cardone (director), Carlos Arditti (scenic design), Stivanello/Pam de Verceli (costume design), Sevim Abaza (lighting design)

N. Martinez (© Ken English)

There comes a time when we might feel unexcited by another production of opera’s unquestionably sexiest. But South Florida gets the adventure of seeing how the scrappy little Miami Lyric Opera tackles one of the biggies, Tosca. When I have seen it done by small companies, it was unsuccessful; so it was not unfair that I held my breath in places. Too often when a performance of Tosca is evaluated, the concentration is on the famous arias. Here they were all beautifully performed. But this work is about so much more than beautiful melodies.

To see Tosca in a small venue lets us experience details we may have never noticed. Scarpia giving Tosca holy water is something so incongruous for that evil man to do with sincerity that it is hard to shake from memory. In fact the Baron’s phony overzealous religious actions are especially timely to Americans. And in this tiny theatre it is hard not to notice the tremendous number of changes in musical moods which might explain succinctly why it is never boring. The orchestra, only 23 pieces, sounds as if there are 20 more. The moments after Cavaradossi is led to his torture chamber before Scarpia begins his interrogation of Tosca is just one of many where conductor Doris Lang Kosloff demonstrates her thorough understanding of this score’s subtleties. The musicians sometimes go out of sync which is noticeable since they are generally right on target.

Raffaele Cardone’s Miami Lyric Opera is not interested in finding new concepts for the standard works. He respects the composers and librettists enough not to rethink “what they really meant.” Most of these guys lived long enough after their works premiered that they had plenty of time to fix things that weren’t working. Cardone just uses his experience and common sense to give us what might be the most powerful and sexy production of Tosca we are ever likely to attend.

This is helped in no small measure by his three leads. In Enrique Pina we might feel as if we have stepped back into the golden era of the mid-20th century Italian tenors. The voice is
placed perfectly. There is such honest love in his first act aria, tremendous drama and heartbreak in the third and let’s not forget his duets with his beloved which are so tender. On top of all this he is a fine actor who moves very well. The always impressive Nelson Martinez took a little time to get his full voice after his entrance but with the booming orchestra that accompanies him it is understandable. His “Va Tosca” gave a chillingly effective Act One finale. Act Two belongs to Scarpia and Martinez did not hesitate in laying claim to the stage. A very large man, he also moves with complete ease. It is interesting to note that Tosca might feel conflicted by his assault since the total command of his environment is alluringly creepy. Then we finally get the soprano we have all been waiting for; one who actually sings and does not scream the role. Jennifer Harris understands what it means to be playing a diva yet never offers the wild gestures that can make the drama feel silly, particularly in such a small house. Another large performer who moves with a true diva’s grace, Harris also has a tone that we can revel in. Tosca is a much richer character when we can hear her playfulness, kindness and fear, not just her anger. When she breaks down to sob near the end of “Vissi d’arte” it is quite possible to feel as if one is finding new depths in this thriller.

Supporting roles were well-handled though Jorge Arcila’s finely acted and amusing Sacristan couldn’t quite summon the power to overcome the orchestra which in the Colony Theatre might not be placed in the most advantageous position. Erica Williams on the other hand is lucky in that she has only the lightest of orchestration to help lead her into making the most of one of Puccini’s loveliest moments as the Shepherd begins the third act.

Production values at MLO are never elaborate but always appropriate. The purple light that covered the stage during the start of the second act was, however, especially inspired. And using a third act set that makes the always eagerly awaited jump all the more credible offers a clarity that is often missing. Tosca is a relatively short opera but its intricacies in plot details and music make it one of the most difficult to stage effectively. This is a giant achievement for MLO.

Maybe unfairly but often Tosca cannot help but be evaluated by the effectiveness of the “Te Deum”; Puccini out-Broadwayed Broadway over 100 years ago. Let Broadway babies forego their thirteenth helping of Phantom of the Opera by substituting Puccini’s “shabby little shocker” and perhaps the standards of the American musical could be resurrected. Tosca? An opera? Of course. But what a show!

Jeff Haller



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