The Curse of Tosca goes into overdrive
Southam Hall, National Arts Centre
09/06/2014 - & September 8, 10, 13, 2014
Giacomo Puccini: Tosca
Giles Tomkins (Angelotti, Jailer, Roman Consul), Thomas Hammons (Sacristan), David Pomeroy (Mario Cavaradossi), Michele Capalbo (Floria Tosca), Todd Thomas (Baron Scarpia), Dion Mazerolle (Sciarrone), Judy Ginsburg/James McLennan (Spoletta), Raphaël Suquet (Young Shepherd)
National Arts Centre Orchestra, Tyrone Patterson (Conductor), Opera Lyra Ottawa Chorus, Laurence Ewashko (Chorus Master), Jamie Loback (Children’s Chorus Master)
Guy Montavon (Stage Director), David Gano (Scenery Design), Kevin Lamotte (Lighting Designer)
An astrologer might credit the looming retrograde mercury, on top of the legendary Macbeth-worthy curse long associated with productions of Tosca, for the escalating vicissitudes preceding and including the opening night of Opera Lyra Ottawa’s September production.
In late August, American bass Valerian Ruminski was fired from the role of Sacristan because of homophobic comments to Facebook regarding a drag queen, part of Capital Pride celebrations in Ottawa that week. His replacement, Peter Strummer, became indisposed and a further replacement, Thomas Hammons, stepped into the breach, and in fact delivered one of the evening’s best performances.
Further surprises (arguably worthy of a new opera buffa, part-Brechtian and part-slapstick) were waiting in the wings. Tenor James McLennan, cast as Spoletta, became indisposed at literally the eleventh hour and was replaced on stage by chor-repetiteur Judy Ginsburg, and vocally by a chorus tenor singing from the wings.
And to top all this off, Tosca herself tripped on her gown and fell at one point before the evening reached its conclusion! It’s a credit to the company, the singers, chorus, orchestra and direction that, even with so many less than felicitous visitations of fate, the production overall was mainly excellent. The cast was impressively unified and the staging, while conventional, moved briskly and was never dull or stodgy. Indeed, David Gano’s almost minimalist sets suggested chamber, rather than ‘grand’ opera.
One problem was the longish intermission between the second and third Acts, albeit mandated by complex scenery changes. This broke the production’s unfolding momentum that builds so brilliantly on Pucinni’s and his librettists’ immaculately conceived first Act exposition then second Act development. (There was further difficulty since the printed program indicated only one intermission, while the change to two intervals was specified only in the insert concerning cast changes.)
At the opera’s centre of course are Tosca, her lover Cavaradossi, and the Machiavellian Scarpia. Soprano Michele Capalbo and tenor David Pomeroy, each Canadian, and American baritone Todd Thomas delivered compelling performances and, most of the time, projected effectively over the lush, gossamer accompaniment of the National Arts Centre Orchestra.
There was a strange, indeed deficit symbiosis between Capalbo and Pomeroy: the former’s lower register occasionally became lost under the orchestra, while the latter’s upper register, also at times strained (especially during the first Act), didn’t always project ideally. But overall, their performances worked well, each singing with clarity, definition and perfect intonation. Capalbo’s “Vissi d'arte” in the second Act was at first over-projected, almost perfunctory, though her dynamic and tonal range soon improved. Pomeroy fared better with “E lucevan le stelle” his major third Act aria, alternately poetic and heroic, while Thomas’ Scarpia, even when not singing, was impressively venal and satanic.
The production concluded with an alternate ending. Tosca, instead of throwing herself off the parapet of Castel Sant’Angelo when she realizes the murdered Scarpia’s betrayal from beyond the grave (real bullets, not the promised blanks were used to execute Cavaradossi), is about to shoot herself when the firing squad reappears and similarly executes her. It is unclear why director Guy Montavon, who is German based, opted for this approach. Perhaps it was meant to intensify Scarpia’s duplicity? Scarpia however, driven by ego as much as evil, hardly anticipated Tosca would betray and murder him.
Even with planned and unplanned hiccups, the staging and singing for Opera Lyra’s Tosca presented a fine realization of the structure, narrative and music for Puccini’s lovingly crafted masterpiece now in its second century of popularity.
Charles Pope Jr.