Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.



Sondra Radvanovsky in the title role of
05 Jun 2013

La Tosca in Los Angeles

When is verismo verily veristic? Or what is a virginal girl dressed in communion white doing in the two murderous acts of the Los Angeles Opera’s current production of Tosca? And why does she sing the shepherd's song?

La Tosca in Los Angeles

A review by Estelle Gilson

Above: Sondra Radvanovsky Tosca

Photos bu Robert Millard courtesy of Los Angeles Opera


Before we explore the girl’s presence, we must meet Floria Tosca, the eponymous heroine of the opera, originally the creation of French playwright Victorien Sardou. Sardou’s five act play, La Tosca, which takes place in Rome on a June day in 1800, was an immensely popular work with which Sarah Bernhardt toured the world. Puccini and librettist Luigi Illica reduced the work to an intense and brutal drama featuring three principals: Tosca, a famous opera singer; the artist Maria Cavaradossi, her lover, who is sheltering an escaped revolutionary prisoner in his country home; and Baron Scarpia, chief of police, who lusts for Tosca. Lusts is the right word. He announces that he plans to have her violently and briefly. After arresting Cavaradossi, Scarpia invites Tosca to his office, from which she can hear Cavaradossi’s screams of pain as he is being tortured. Scarpia sentences Cavaradossi to death, then appears to agree to a mock execution and a safe conduct out of Rome for the lovers if Tosca will surrender to him. When Scarpia has signed the order and turns towards her, Tosca stabs him to death. Immediately thereafter, she rushes to prison to tell Mario there will be a fake execution, but when he is really shot, and her own crime is discovered, Tosca leaps from the prison tower.

Sondra Radvanovsky’s appearance as the Roman diva made this a special occasion for the Los Angeles Opera company and its audience. Since the soprano’s first appearance with the company in 2004 in Verdi’s Il Trovatore, she has made an international career in Verdi roles. Ms. Radvanovsky’s radiant voice is evenly produced throughout all registers. Her moving “vissi d’arte” which concluded with a messa di voce brought vociferous applause. Her stabbing of Scarpia with two knife thrusts was one of the most vehement I have seen.

As Tosca’s lover, Mario Cavaradossi, Italian tenor, Marco Berti did not match Radvanovsky’s lyricism, particularly early on. Singing the first act’s “recondite armonia” to Placido Domingo, the evening’s conductor, can’t be easy work. However, Berti’s high notes, including the famous “Vittoria” were clarion sounds. And happily, he seemed more comfortable with his last act aria.

TCA1200.pngSondra Radvanovsky as Tosca and Marco Berti as Cavaradossi, with Lado Ataneli as Scarpia

Lado Ataneli made a suave yet savage Scarpia. Keeping with his character, Puccini has given Scarpia sinuously lyrical passages, which the Georgean baritone delivered with subtlety and power. It’s a shame that opera audiences of late have demonstrated a childish tendency to hiss or boo villainous characters at their curtain calls. Ataneli was deprived of the appreciation he deserved. Philip Cokorinos, Joshua Bloom as the Sacristan and Angelotti, the escaped prisoner, respectively, turned in convincing performances, as did Eden McCoy as the young girl. Maestro Domingo led a well-paced performance. At times he seemed to be bent over as though to extract still more emotion from his orchestra. However he effected it, Puccini’s orchestration sounded lush.

John Caird, who has earned honors and worked on every kind of stage throughout the world, led the production team for Tosca, which he originally created for Houston Grand Opera in 2010. Caird considers Tosca “one of the greatest works of music theater ever written” and has lauded its “overwhelming musical, human, moral and religious powers.” At the same time he has enhanced verismo violence by staging a bloodier than usual Tosca. Each act opens with an ever more blood- blotched fore curtain, which is pulled down by the first character to appear in the ensuing act. And he has Tosca slit her own throat. Neither sets nor costumes give an indication of the time of the opera’s setting, though Ms. Radvanovsky was encumbered with a bustle. What is clear, is that the action seems to have followed a calamity. The unit sets are dark, unattractive and except for the last act, cramped. Cavaradossi works on a three story scaffolding, each of which holds a different part of the Madonna’s face he is painting. Talk of verismo — if that painting were put together, there’d be no place to hang it in that church. The second act, usually staged in Scarpia’s elegant Farnese quarters, is here a warehouse filled with cartons, statues, all sorts of matter clearly purporting to be ill gotten gains. The prison is a large empty yard made still uglier for us as we watch Angelotti’s body being hung. At the rear is a large unbarred, open window — another “unverismo” touch.

TCA5139.pngSondra Radvanovsky as Tosca and Lado Ataneli as Scarpia

But now it is time to return to the virginal girl dressed in communion white. It is she who pulls down the curtain for the prison scene. She then crosses the stage, sits at the window’s edge where she sings the shepherd’s greeting to the sun in a childish voice, “For you I will die,” are its last words. She will remain there throughout the act. The girl first appeared in the second act, beckoning to Tosca after the singer killed Scarpia.

There is no mysterious or mystical character in either the Puccini or Sardou stories. The girl is Caird’s creation. But who is she, why does she sing the shepherd’s song? Though the director may seem to have forsaken purists’ interpretation of verismo by inserting this vision, he has, in fact, made more explicit what Puccini had only implied, and what Sardou had made clear: that Tosca was a child of the church. Puccini’s Tosca lays flowers at the Atavanti altar, and refuses to kiss Mario before the Madonna. In “vissi d’arte”, her plea to God, she recalls her devotion and generosity to the church. Her last word in the opera is “God.” In Sardou’s play we learn the full depth of Tosca’s faith. She herded goats as a child until she was found and raised by Benedictine nuns, who expected for her to join their order. As she began singing and her talent was recognized in the secular world, the composer Cimarosa insisted she become an opera singer. Sardou tells us that the entire city of Rome took sides in the ensuing conflict until the girl was brought to sing before the pope. Charmed by her voice, the pontiff patted her cheek and told her, “Go your way, my child, you will move others to compassion, as you have me. You will make people shed gentle tears and that too is a way of praying to God.”

Estelle Gilson

Cast and production information:

Angelotti: Joshua Bloom; Sacristan: Philip Cokorinos; Mario Cavaradossi: Marco Berti; Floria Tosca: Sondra Radvanovsky; Baron Scarpia: Lado Ataneli; Spoleta: Rodell Rosel; Sciarrone: Daniel Armstrong; Young girl: Eden McCoy; Jailer: Hunter Philips. Conductor: Placido Domingo; Director: John Caird; Scenery and Costume Designer: Bunny Christie; Lighting Director: Duane Schuler; Chorus Director: Grant Gershon.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):