The Sarasota Opera triumphs with a compelling Tosca.
By Kay Kipling
For a relative latecomer to opera such as myself, one frequent complaint has been that while the music, the voices and the settings are beautiful, the storylines can be far-fetched and the characters too thinly drawn. Not the case with the Sarasota Opera’s 50th anniversary season opening of Puccini’s Tosca, which boasts not only great music and singing but a tale of love, treachery and tragedy that’s clear enough—and three-dimensional enough—for any opera newbie to appreciate.
For those who may not know, this melodrama is set in Rome in 1800, just as Napoleon’s army is fighting a decisive battle that could determine Italy’s political future. In the personal story we’re told, the painter Mario Cavaradossi (Rafael Davila) is drawn into helping an escaped political prisoner and friend, Angelotti (Erick Kroncke), get away from his dogged (and wicked) pursuer, the chief of police, Scarpia (Grant Youngblood). The title character is Floria Tosca (Kara Shay Thomson), a celebrated singer and Cavaradossi’s lover, who has one fatal flaw: jealousy.
When she finds her lover painting a portrait of another woman, she immediately suspects him of infidelity. He’s able to convince her of his true love, but as the story unfolds Scarpia’s own illicit passion for Tosca places the lovers in a terrible quandary. Mario is tortured, and an anguished Tosca is forced to reveal Angelotti’s hiding place and surrender to Scarpia in order for the two to survive—or else deal with Scarpia in a more final and brutal way.
As revealed in the libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa and under the excellent stage direction of Stephanie Sundine, the story is intimate and compelling, with no wasted moments spent on extraneous scenes or songs that don’t move the action along. Puccini’s music, feelingly conducted by Victor DeRenzi, is both powerful and powerfully sung by the leads. Thomson richly deserves her applause after the heart-rending aria vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore (“I lived on art, I lived on love”), and Davila’s preparation to be executed while recalling memories of past happiness (E lucevan la stelle) is also potent.
But even above Tosca herself, perhaps the most memorable character here is Scarpia, and he’s chillingly portrayed by Youngblood. A sadistic villain with nothing to excuse his behavior, during the course of the evening Scarpia/Youngblood seems a combination of Darth Vader, Lord Voldemort and Dick Cheney, all rolled into one big, evil package.
All told, a highly satisfying evening at the opera house. Tosca continues in performances on selected dates through March 29; for tickets call 366-8450 or go to sarasotaopera.org.