The 2012 Fort Worth Opera Festival opened at Bass Performance Hall on Saturday with a soaring and seductive production of Giacomo Puccini's musically gorgeous and theatrically dramatic Tosca, directed by Daniel Pelzig with music director Joe Illick conducting the superb 60-member opera orchestra. The 30-member chorus, supplemented by a 15-member children's chorus, is integrated seamlessly into the moment, delivering a hushed "Te Deum" in the church or an ominous cadence when violence erupts.
Andrew Horn's magnificent 35-foot sets, the tallest ever installed in Bass Hall, recreate the grandeur of an ancient church and a castle battlement in Rome of 1800. Ray Diffen's traditional period costumes are sumptuous, detailed but not fussy, allowing the characters to sweep us into the action—and that they do.
Soprano Carter Scott is a powerful singer and a compelling actress in the title role, her rich voice reverberating through the hall and her handsome presence commanding the stage the way a diva should. Her Tosca is a jealous and playful tease in the first act, a terrified pawn in the second and a passionate woman willing to murder for her lover by the end. Everyone desires Tosca, including the enthusiastic opening night audience, applauding Scott's exquisite solos, then standing and cheering when the final curtain rings down.
Scott's dazzling performance is further enhanced by the robust and virile performance of tenor Roger Honeywell as Cavaradossi, Tosca's lover, a handsome painter who helps his rebel friend escape prison. Their rapturous duet "Non la sospiri" is a lovely embodiment of physical and spiritual yearning—a highlight of the evening.
But such true and tender love is not to be, as all opera buffs know. Opposing the lovers is the villainous Baron Scarpia, a monster of lust and torture played with real physical menace by baritone Michael Chioldi. A big man, he strides the stage in his knee-high boots like he owns Rome. Chioldi's Scarpia is a controlling, vengeful tyrant whose desire for Tosca increases the more she resists him. His deep voice resounds effortlessly, conveying his greed and determination to trick Tosca into making love to him.
Chioldi's range and ease as a singer make credible the attraction of a powerful man—and his will to deceive and seduce Tosca is a terrible force opposing the heroine. He lies with smiling conviction, telling Tosca he will arrange a fake execution of her lover—and safe passage for them both out of the country—if she bows to his pleasure. The scene in Scarpia's rooms when he slams the gasping Tosca onto a table as if to rape her then and there is truly wrenching.
But no such force can bring down the pious and passionate Tosca. In the face of Scarpia's lust and fury, and lying flat on her back with her head hung off a table, Scott's gallant Tosca sings a moving "Vissi d'arte" ("I have lived for art"). When Tosca at last staggers to her feet, we are distraught along with this desperate and God-fearing woman as she hides the glittering knife with which to stab her devilish tormenter to death. We are glad when she does what she must and we cheer her on as she takes the safe-conduct note from Scarpia's lifeless fingers and rushes off to rescue Cavaradossi.
The music and the lighting rise together in the last act of Tosca, when the heroine goes at first light to the blue-shadowed ramparts of the prison to meet her lover. The dawn begins with joyous expectations of freedom from tyranny and love fulfilled. As the light increases, and the truth of betrayal and death are made manifest in the real execution of her lover, Scott makes us feel the full shock of Tosca's realization that her lover is, indeed, dead. She leaps to her own death, vowing to meet her betrayer before God's justice, just as the search goes out to find Scarpia's killer. Puccini's music rises to a crescendo—and was there opening night.
Opera happens once more in this thrilling production of Tosca.
◊ Tosca runs in repertory with three other productions: Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, Jake Heggie's Three Decembers and Mark Adamo's Lysistrata. The remainder of the Fort Worth Opera Festival 2012 performances are:
Friday, May 18, 7:30 p.m. Three Decembers at Scott Theatre OUR REVIEW
Saturday, May 19, 7:30 p.m. The Marriage of Figaro at Bass Hall OUR REVIEW
Sunday, May 20, 2 p.m. Tosca at Bass Hall
Sunday, May 20, 7:30 p.m. Three Decembers at Scott Theatre
Friday, May 25, 7:30 p.m. Tosca at Bass Hall
Saturday, May 26, 2 p.m. Three Decembers at Scott Theatre
Saturday, May 26, 7:30 p.m. Lysistrata at Bass Hall
Sunday, May 27, 2 p.m. The Marriage of Figaro at Bass Hall
Thursday, May 31, 7:30 p.m. Three Decembers at Scott Theatre
Friday, June 1, 7:30 p.m. The Marriage of Figaro at Bass Hall
Saturday, June 2, 2 p.m. Three Decembers at Scott Theatre
Saturday, June 2, 7:30 p.m. Tosca at Bass Hall
Sunday, June 3, 2 p.m. Lysistrata at Bass Hall