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Ingela Brimberg as Tosca and Lance Ryan as Cavaradossi [Photo © Klaus Lefebvre]
26 Aug 2016

High Voltage Tosca in Cologne

I saw two operas consecutively at Oper Koln. First, the utterly bewildering Lucia di Lammermoor; then Thilo Reinhardt’s thrilling Tosca. His staging was pure operatic joy with some Hitchcockian provocations.

High Voltage Tosca in Cologne

A review by David Pinedo

Above: Ingela Brimberg as Tosca and Lance Ryan as Cavaradossi [Photo © Klaus Lefebvre]


This dramatic production engaged with fine vocals and an exhilarating choir. With his vocal gravitas, Samuel Youn as Scarpia dominated the stage. The Te Deum made for one of the more epically scaled opera scenes I witnessed this season. The director moved the opera from Puccini’s originally intended 1800 to the end of WW II in fascist Italy. It wasn’t too farfetched after Lucia yesterday, so I didn’t mind. The idea of history repeating seemed acceptable.

While the audience sits down, the priest is already preparing mass. Choir members pray in the pews. Thilo Reinhardt’s staging already invites intimate audience involvement. Bombs drop and explode around the church. Once in awhile the stage would reverberate. Luke Stoker carried the role of Catholic priest here with conviction and his singing kept me focused.

In a flashy pink dress, Ingela Brimberg as Floria had a highly charged voice and the required dramatic flair to enrich the thespian nature of her character. Her vibrant voice phrased her passage with great urgency. In “Vissi d’arte” she reached all her notes resonantly. Her voice went the distance. Disappointing chemistry with Lance Ryan’s Mario made their scenes only mildly sensual, especially in their love duet “Qual'occhio”.

Ms. Brimberg cast a bit of a shadow with her ardor. I expected Mr. Ryan to give back more. I did not get carried away by his “Recondita armonia”. In his interactions with Angelotti, he was also overshadowed by the revolutionary zeal in Lucas Singer’s engrossing voice. Still, I was quite taken by Mr. Ryan’s “E lucevan le stelle” in Act III. His drama skills convinced.

The star of the evening, Youn intimidated as his powerfully authoritarian Scarpia commanded the stage. His voice resonated with grounding depth with a devious, even bitter, character. He made this role his own. The opera is worth seeing just for him and that marvelous Te Deum with banners and inflamed torches held by the superlative choir. A truly exhilarating climax to Act I amplified by the contrast with the preceding intimacy.

Claude Schnitzler made the Gurzenich Orchester Koln have moments of brilliance with colorful woodwinds. The strings carried a great depth. He propelled Puccini’s musical momentum forward as the singers kept firing up their voices. Schnitzler balanced all the dynamic vocal forces bringing out all the violence, power, and passion in the Italian composer’s score.

The Chor of Oper Koln enriched the staging with an impressive sonority dosed with a surging energy. Reinhardt’s incorporation of the individual singers proved highly effective. Exhilarating to hear the choir’s members engage so vigorously. They brought grandeur to this production. The vocal intensity invigorated Paul Zoller’s simple set, meant to elevate the vocal drama.

It was remarkable to see two similarly dislocated productions, one over the top and uneven; the other properly balanced and vocally superb. Oper Koln’s Tosca captivates and leaves an epic impression. Even though it is not set in the time that Puccini ascribed, this Tosca hit her notes very high.

David Pinedo

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