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Deborah Voigt as Tosca [Photo by Dan Rest courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago]
19 Oct 2009

Tosca at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For the first production of its 55th season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged a revival of Puccini’s Tosca with a cast of notable singers led by music director Sir Andrew Davis.

Giacomo Puccini: Tosca

Tosca: Deborah Voigt (Sept. & Oct.), Violeta Urmana (Jan).; Cavaradossi: Vladimir Galouzine (Sept. & Oct.), Marco Berti (Jan.); Scarpia: James Morris (Sept. & Oct.), Lucio Gallo (Jan.); Sacristan: Dale Travis; Spoletta: John Easterlin (Sept. & Oct.), David Cangelosi (Jan.); Sciarrone: Paul Corona; Jailer: Sam Handley; Angelotti: Craig Irvin; Shepherd: Angela Mannino. Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis (Sept. & Oct.), Stephen Lord (Jan.). Original Production: Franco Zeffirelli. Director: Garnett Bruce.

Above: Deborah Voigt as Tosca

All photos by Dan Rest courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago

 

The opening night performance (seen here) offered the expected celebratory mood with festive dress, champagne, and the house itself decked out in appropriate splendor. The choice of this staging is also a celebration of operatic history: Zeffirelli’s original production for a Covent Garden Tosca with Maria Callas was acquired by Lyric Opera in time for its 2004-05 anniversary season and are used again now in this festive season opener.

Galouzine_Voigt_Tosca_Chicago.pngVladimir Galouzine as Cavaradossi and Deborah Voigt as Tosca

The principal singers in Lyric’s current run (a second cast will be featured for additional performances in January) include Deborah Voigt as Floria Tosca, Vladimir Galouzine as Mario Cavaradossi, and James Morris as the Baron Scarpia. In smaller yet significant roles Craig Irvin sang Cesare Angelotti, Dale Travis was the Sacristan, and John Easterlin portrayed Spoletta. As the curtain rose after a brief orchestral introduction, the former prisoner Angelotti staggered into the Church of Sant’ Andrea della Valle while seeking exile. Here and in the following scene Irvin showed a believable desperation, his athletic movements in line with Angelotti’s vocal utterances underscoring the conviction of his beliefs. The interior of the church as depicted seems appropriately cluttered for the mix of worship and artistic project underway in the first act. Once the prisoner hides, the sacristan enters and busies himself with cleaning as well as credible acts of devotion and prayer. The painter Cavaradossi interrupts the sacristan with a bemused look and the famous line, “Che fai?” [“What are you doing?”]. Galouzine delivered these lines with a tension signaling, on the one hand, his friendly encouragement, yet on the other his preoccupation with both worldly and personal matters. As Cavaradossi turns to unveil the painting of the Madonna, on which he has lately worked, the sacristan recognizes the features of a woman who has often come to pray. At this point Cavaradossi sings the well-known aria “Recondita armonia,” [“What subtle harmony”] in which he muses on the appreciation of beauty in more than one woman, his final thoughts of devotion settling on the beloved Tosca. Here Galouzine began with a warm, almost baritonal depth, his voice blooming into the full tenor range during the course of the piece and finally ending with pointedly steady and ringing high notes on the words “Tosca, sei tu!” [“Tosca, it is you!”] From this point on into the evening Galouzine commanded the stage in those scenes where his presence required vocal statements of emotional enthusiasm. As a foil to his passion and introspection, Deborah Voigt’s entrance as Tosca signaled both feeling and religious devotion, giving way alternately to suspicion, to ardor, and to faith in the ways of the Divinity. This complexity would then inform Voigt’s interpretation throughout the remainder of the performance. After her initial jealous outburst is calmed by Cavaradossi, she settled into an inspired love-duet, punctuated intermittently by Voigt with pointed emphases. At times the voice was pressed forte more than necessary, whereas at other moments, especially in her duet with Galouzine, a moving tenderness was communicated in a softer vocal delivery. After her departure and the painter’s reunion and hurried exit with Angelotti, the stage was again left to the sacristan. Mr. Travis maintained an admirably steady legato and, in his acting, was skilled at realistic portrayal without descending into the purely buffo characterization drawn on by some who have interpreted this role. His interaction with the children entering the church suggested a lilting respect for position and surroundings. Of course Scarpia’s appearance is calculated to change everything. As he and his police henchmen persevere in their search for Angelotti, the musical accompaniment becomes decidedly menacing.

Voigt_Morris_Tosca_Chicago.pngJames Morris as Scarpia and Deborah Voigt as Tosca

The Scarpia of James Morris is, in this performance, decidedly understated, at times lighter of voice than one’s expectations, yet also communicative through glance, gesture, and movement. As Tosca returned to the Church, the two engaged in a vocal and dramatic battle for dominance with Voigt showing full realization of both the danger and challenge of her position as she once again left. The conclusion of the act showcased Scarpia in the famous Te Deum scene, Morris again here blending into a fully populated stage without yet reaching a full crescendo of power and lust.

That very powerful characterization of Scarpia began its development at the start of the second act. Here Morris achieved a synthesis of volume and feeling as he contemplated with relish the possibilities of his amorous conquest. His address to Cavaradossi showed him to be the ruthless villain whose demise shocks but seems, ultimately, inevitable. As the trio of principals interacted during the middle portion of this act, Galouzine again stood out as his voice rang in thrilling declarations of “Vittoria!” [“Victory!”] Although his actual torture was cut short by Tosca’s divulging information to Scarpia, he still remains a prisoner. She must agree to give herself to the Baron in order to buy safe passage out of the city for Cavaradossi and herself. In her aria “Vissi d’arte” [“I have lived for art”] Voigt invested her delivery with peaks of emotional dedication in order to lend an expressive fullness to her interpretation. At times the voice responded to this approach, at others the aria was less effective especially when pitch or volume might have shown greater control. After Scarpia signs the document for their alleged freedom, Tosca commits the murder that leads to her suicide at the close of the opera. Sir Andrew Davis managed orchestral tempos here with a subtlety that gave a yet deeper impression of Tosca’s emotional struggle before she hurriedly closed the door while leaving Scarpia dead on the floor of his apartment.

In Act III of the opera Cavaradossi contemplates his impending execution until Tosca arrives to give him the news of their safe passage. In these solitary moments Galouzine’s performance of “E lucevan le stelle” [“And the stars were shining”] was assuredly a vocal highlight of this performance. When Tosca appears to tell of her plan and the price that she has paid, Voigt gives the impression of being in full control, not realizing of course that Scarpia has betrayed her trust. As Cavaradossi indeed falls dead from the bullets of the firing squad and Tosca understands the horror of her position, Voigt continues to display that dramatic control: she jumps from the parapet to her death only after pushing with evident force a pursuant officer and causing him to fall backward. As she declares, she and Scarpia will meet again before God.

Salvatore Calomino

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