March 11th, 2010

eyes black and white

Tosca at the LHO

The Harvard Lowell House Opera is not the MetOpera by far. It doesn't have access to the same means and talent pool. But it makes it all up with humor and passion. This year's production of Puccini's Tosca was simply brilliant.

The scene is transposed to Wartime Fascist Italy, with the slogan "Fascimo è Libertà" projected on top of the altar at the right of the scene; subtitles (very well displayed) refer to the Duce instead of the King, and Napoleon's victory in Marengo becomes Churchill's victory in Sicily, in a creative translation that doesn't require the singers to vary their lyrics.

The orchestra was excellent, and who cares if it doesn't have the range of nuances of a professional orchestra. Maybe Sarah Nicole Price could have usefully lost weight, but she didn't just sing Tosca with passion, she didn't just play Tosca to perfection, she was Tosca. Giovanni Formisano may have stretched his vocal range at times, he was still a convincing Caravadossi. Wesley Thomas was at ease as Scarpia's villain extraordinaire, who seeks refined ways to further his evil; I admire Puccini for making this character so powerful and devious that he is the main protagonist of Act III despite his death in Act II (oops, did I spoil it for you?). But a great creation is Steven Rozenski's deliciously ordinary villain, in his role as a jailer who doubles as executioner, bribed without qualms and comfortable in following evil orders; a small role in Puccini, made remarkable in this production.

Michael Yashinsky the Stage Director did a stellar job, with many clever ideas in the staging that give life to the Opera without changing a line of text, as in the torture scene in projected shadows. In his Programme Note, Yashinsky claims that "Puccini was a man of the 20th century, and his Tosca is in its essence a 20th century tale, depicting as it does the happiness of innocents being destroyed by a barbaric political machine." Then on stage, he proves it. Bravo.

PS: Later that year, Tosca was at the BLO, and it also transposed the action to fascist Rome! And you could see what money could do (though it was not the Met): beautiful sets that reproduce the Roman locations, the entrance of Sant'Andrea della Valle, an office in the Palazzo Farnese with a big map of 1930s Rome, and the top of the Castel Sant'Angelo. With all professional singers and orchestra — Bradley Garvin was a perfect Scarpia, and Jill Gardner a great Tosca, though Diego Torre was only a good Caravadossi. The third act brilliantly opened the curtains on a firing squad having just shot a man, with the opening song sung by the jailer's son sponging the blood of the victim off the floor of the platform — a "shocker" of a gruesome scene, that Puccini would have loved, and that forebodes of what awaits the desperate protagonist unless Tosca saves him. With everything so good like that, what a disappointment that the translation was so unimaginative and bland. Oh, that they would have reused Yashinsky's!

PPS: My favorite line was long "Questo è il bacio di Tosca!", but now, it's "E rido ancor".