23 Nov 2012

Tosca (Postscript) in San Francisco

Extraordinary diva, Angela Gheorghiu pulled out of opening night after act one. It was news when she made it to the end of the second performance. Here is what happened at the third performance.

First and foremost Angela Gheorghiu is a diva. She holds the stage by the sheer force of her personality, like perhaps no other contemporary diva. The excitement she brought to the stage with her entrance was indeed palpable, and she played the first act softly, alternating coyness with temperament, interspersing a forceful high note from time to time, even a few entire phrases rang out. There was no doubt that this diva, Tosca, was high maintenance, that she was trouble. A diva who would in actual fact engage a powerful man — Scarpia. Her first act was a masterpiece, worth the price of admission.

Italian baritone Roberto Frontali however plays an insidious rather than a powerful Scarpia. In the first act his underhanded tactics to track Cavaradossi and entrap Tosca expose his truly perverse psyche. He begins the second act publicly proclaiming his consuming sadism. Downstage center, to all of us. No secrets.

But as the second act progressed there was a personality change in both Tosca and Scarpia. Tosca shed her temperament revealing a weak, vulnerable woman who had lived for her art, turning to and walking toward Scarpia, making her aria, softly, a pitiable confession, submitting to her tormentor. Scarpia however had become uncertain of his sadistic tools, his threats were absorbed into the retro scenery. He became palpably impotent. Mme. Gheorghiu, Tosca, the trapped victim, now became sly. Softly and perversely she was the insidious tormenter. You know what happened.

Conductor Nicola Luisotti played along, allowing an unusual orchestra continuum to percolate under this act that seemed nearly parlato (spoken) rather than sung. A highly unusual Tosca, Act II. Disquieting.

The third act is the Cavaradossi act, tenor Massimo Giordano brought out the turgid in Maestro Luisottii — huge, round orchestral tones that went nowhere. Giordano, who did made real tenorial noise upon rare occasion, nailed his high notes strangely, scooping up with a jump of a minor third. He evoked scattered applause for what is usually a show-stopper (e lucevan le stelle). La Gheorghiu, Tosca, entered, muttered her instructions softly, deftly acting non-stop (where was the singing?). You know what happened.

Tosca, la Gheorghiu, fled up the parapet, forgetting to shed her cloak and throw it at her pursuers who pretended she did and fell anyway. Then there was a very strange moment — you felt that Angela really did not want do that nasty jump. But she had to.

If you want a magnificent Tosca go to that of verismo diva Patricia Racette, if you want a gourmet, weird Tosca that of la Gheorghiu may fill the bill.

Michael Milenski

Cast and Production

Floria Tosca Act I: Angela Gheorghiu: Floria Tosca; Mario Cavaradossi: Massimo Giordano; Baron Scarpia: Roberto Frontali; Angelotti: Christian Van Horn; Spoletta: Joel Sorensen; Sacristan: Dale Travis; Sciarrone: Ao Li; Jailer: Ryan Kuster; Shepherd Boy: Etienne Julius Valdez. San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus. Conductor: Nicola Luisotti; Stage Director: Jose Maria Condemi; Production Designer: Thierry Bosquet; Lighting Designer: Christopher Maravich. San Francisco War Memorial Opera House. November 21, 2012.