The new production of Tosca at the Santa Fe Opera is a combination of the traditional and the downright weird. Almost everyone knows the story. The painter Cavaradossi, his diva girlfriend Tosca, and the revolutionary leader Angelotti are supporters of Napoleon but the Chief of Police, the slimy Baron Scarpia, is out to stop them. Cavaradossi falls into his clutches and Scarpia demands sex with Tosca as payment for his freedom. She agrees, but stabs the Baron instead of kissing him. The phony execution that Scarpia arranged was another deception. Cavaradossi is really killed by the firing squad and Tosca leaps off the roof rather than be caught by the police.
This all takes place in a real location, the Basilica of Sant'Andrea della Valle. Here is where it gets weird. In the hands of director Stephan Barlow and designer Yannis Thavoris, we are given a disorienting view. The gigantic wall mural of the Madonna that our hero is painting is lying on the floor of the stage, the dome of the church is in the background, and we are staring at as if as if we were lying on the floor and looking up. Seen this way, it looks like the Star Gate from the 1994 SciFi time travel thriller. As a result, everyone walks all over Cavaradossi's painting, most violently by all of the children portraying the church's acolytes. And he had just laid down some fresh paint while singing his big aria.
Half of the painting folds up to create a religious fresco on a crumbling wall to indicate we are in Scarpia's office, and that works better. It folds back down for the last act to create the roof where our hero thinks that the firing squad will be using blanks. Tosca discovers that Scarpia has deceived her again and her famous leap off of the roof works better than usual, although it is curious that the guards make no effort to catch her before she jumps.
An interesting touch is that a servant clears Scarpia's table, taking away the knife that Tosca traditionally uses to stab her tormentor. She has to resort to a hatpin that she somehow finds in her hair, which must be a doozy. Also, we don't get the traditional setting of candles and a cross by Tosca on either side of Scarpia's dead body. Instead, he crawls into his torture room and we only see his feet, like the remains of the wicked witch under Dorothy's house. Completely out of sight of the audience, we assume that Tosca lays his coat over him and then pulls into the room. We do see her shut the door.
The last act doesn't open in the prison, but we are still in Scarpia's room. The sad little song of the shepherd boy (sung by boy soprano Stefan Biller) is turned into a servant sweeping up. He discovers Scarpia's body. Why the police don't immediately hunt down Tosca, other than the fact that this would eliminate the entire last act, is a mystery.
The soprano from Durban, South Africa, Amanda Echalaz, wows as Floria Tosca. She has power to spare when needed but floats some lovely soft sounds in all the right places. She looks like Tosca should look and is believable throughout. One odd exception is in the first act when she cries on Scarpia's shoulder when she thinks that her lover has been unfaithful. Tosca would never have turned to this weasel for comfort. Perhaps Barlow was trying to set up the reason why Scarpia thought he might have a chance with the diva, but she knows exactly who he was and would never touch him.
Departures from tradition seem to have no other reason for happening than just departing from tradition.
The American tenor Brian Jagde is a last-minute replacement as Cavaradossi. On Monday, he displayed a troubling vibrato in his first aria (Recondita armonia) but gained in vocal quality and strength as the opera progressed. His final aria (E lucevan le stelle) was one of the highlights of the production. Oddly, on Monday, conductor Frédéric Chaslin didn't stop the music afterwards to allow some well-earned audience applause.
American bass Raymond Aceto makes a low-key and elegant Scarpia, who is made even more villainous than usual by his gentlemanly behavior. However, he shows his private side when he tosses his lackey, Spoletta (fortunately not portrayed as the usual whiner by Dennis Peterson), roughly to the ground.
Bass-baritone Dale Travis plays the Sacristan as the usual buffo buffoon. One of the apprentices, baritone Zachary Nelson, as Angelotti, was impressive on Monday. Also, the orchestra played beautifully and Chaslin did a fine job of conducting. Some tempi were slower that usual (such as Tosca's big aria Vissi d'arte) and some faster, but most of the pacing was excellent. There were one or two moments in the first act in which the stage got way from him. But he immediately pulled it back together.
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◊ Review of Santa Fe Opera's Maometto II
◊ Review of Santa Fe Opera's King Roger