03 June 2012

Fort Worth Opera Festival 2012: Puccini’s ‘Tosca’

Vivo dell’arte di Carter!
Ms. Carter Scott as Floria Tosca,
Fort Worth Opera, 2012
Illustration by WVM©

Opera at its best makes no apologies for what it is, and that’s one reason, I think, that it has always appealed to the misfits in society. Opera is outsized, flamboyant, passionate, loud, unlikely to fit in, unrestrained and unashamed — just like us, and in some cases, just like the people who create opera.

Opera doesn’t get any flashier than Puccini’s Tosca, the heroine of which is an opera singer. In Fort Worth Opera’s bracing production, you never once forgot what Floria Tosca does for a living, and the full-throttle approach of soprano Carter Scott in the title role was matched by Daniel Pelzig’s throw-’em-across-the-stage direction, Andrew Horn’s monumental scenic designs, and Joe Illick’s sculptural approach to the orchestra. Thoroughly and unapologetically traditional, this Tosca proved exceptionally satisfying.

Never was Tosca more tragic onstage!
Carter Scott as Tosca, with Michael Chioldi as Scarpia.
Photo by Ron T. Ennis©
Courtesy of Fort Worth Opera

Scott impressed me tremendously as Puccini’s Turandot in Fort Worth Opera’s 2009 production; when I heard she would return as Tosca (a role she sang here in 2005, too, though I missed it), my excitement mounted. If anything, she surpassed my lofty expectations, deploying a force-of-nature instrument that was never less than thrilling. Yet she explored subtler moments in both the score and the drama, scaling back for softer singing at times, and finding a girlish insecurity underneath Tosca’s prima-donna jealousy.

Meeting her head-on, baritone Michael Chioldi possessed like a demon the role of Baron Scarpia, a guy who seemed incapable of addressing any other character without flinging him across the stage, and who thundered and insinuated his menace and lust with equal abandon. Roger Honeywell’s tenor voice simply isn’t produced with ease sufficient to match the kinds of vocal characterizations offered by his colleagues, but he always cuts a dashing figure onstage and his voice rang out where it counted most. Among the smaller roles, bass Rod Nelman turned in the most musical Sacristan I’ve ever heard.

In the pit, Illick shaped the score much more aggressively than I’m accustomed to hearing him do, and he stretched out not only certain musical phrases but also pregnant pauses, to thrilling dramatic effect. It says a lot when the audience is absolutely silent during the interlude in which Tosca lays out Scarpia’s body. Unfortunately, the curtain fell on each act while the music was still playing. Human nature is irresistible in such circumstances, and we began to applaud much, much too soon, losing quite a lot of those moments in the score when Puccini really concentrates his energy and is at his most expressive.

Doomed lovers: Scott and Honeywell as Tosca and Cavaradossi.
Photo by Ron T. Ennis©
Courtesy of Fort Worth Opera.

Apart from these miscalculations in ringing down the curtain, Pelzig’s staging offered plenty of pertinent insight into the relationships and realities of this drama. I noted with pleasure, for example, the way Tosca peeped into the corridor outside Scarpia’s apartment before fleeing the murder scene at the end of Act II. Still, for the most part, this Tosca was about the embrace of the extreme: big passions, big gestures, big voices, big sets, big hair. It seemed too much for mere mortals to bear, and yet we all prevailed, and were better for it. That’s opera — that’s art — that’s life.

And thus what might have been expected to be the most conventional offering in this 2012 Festival season — one of the “safest” choices, in contrast to the unfamiliar, contemporary works on the calendar — turned out to be an unexpected triumph.

No comments: