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La Scena Musicale Online Reviews and News / Critiques et Nouvelles

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Canadian Opera Company Opens Season with Safe Tosca

By Denise Lai October 6, 2003

Love, jealousy, betrayal and murder make for the most irresistable elements of any opera. Add Puccini’s music and the result is a perfect marriage of music and drama. Tosca, one of Giacomo Puccini’s best-loved operas, opened the Canadian Opera Company’s 2003-2004 season at Toronto’s Hummingbird Centre for the Performing Arts on September 25 in a production directed by Denni Sayers, which originally hailed from the Teatro Communale di Bologna.

The star of the night was Hungarian soprano Eszter Sumegi who brought to the title role of the hot-tempered diva a lustrous voice with a lovely vibrato. Tosca’s jealous outbursts were aptly portrayed. Though her rendition of "Vissi d’arte" in Act Two was perfect technically, it was perhaps too heavy on anger, when pain and desperation would have been more appropriate.

Georgian tenor Badri Maisuradze sang the role of Cavaradossi, painter and Tosca's lover. His voice did not sufficiently project in Act One, and was noticeably strained in the high range during the aria "Recondita armonia." Things improved by Act Three with his heart-wrenching "E lucevan le stelle," delivered with a good measure of anguish and hopelessness.

The evil Scarpia, chief of police, who maliciously schemed to win over Tosca, was played by French baritone Alain Fondary. His acting was convincing, and at the end of Act One he sang with brilliant determination to have both Tosca and her lover captured, one in his arms, and one hanged on the gallows. His singing, however, faltered in Act Two, struggling with pitch and uneven tone.

The supporting cast–Olivier Laquerre’s Angelotti, John Kriter’s Spoletta, Gregory Dahl’s Sciarrone and Cornelis Opthof’s jailor, all provided strong, even singing. Deserving special mention was young Canadian bass Robert Pomakov’s Sacristan, whose resonant voice was matched by an equally fine technique.

The COC orchestra played with accuracy and sensuality under the baton of David Atherton, but at times overpowered the vocalists. Always the shining star of Canadian Opera productions, the COC chorus was terrific under the direction of Sandra Horst.

One would be disappointed if expecting colourful sets that reflect the grandeur of the 18th century. In recent years, COC has leaned towards minimalistic sets with a modern spin, and Tosca was no exception. In this case, the background and costumes were mostly black. It worked surprisingly well, though, with magnificent lighting and intermittent piercing of colours from Tosca’s costumes. The cardinal procession in Act One, with the chorus singing Te Deum in the background, created the most visually stunning effects.

By virtue of the music and drama, the work itself provided all the substance for success, but certainly could be augmented by more solid singing and emotional chemistry between the characters, particularly between Tosca and Cavaradossi. The ending, when Tosca discovered she had been double-crossed by Scarpia, and subsequently hurled herself over the parapet to her death, could have been more dramatic.

Tosca plays for six performances until October 11, but tickets have reportedly been sold out prior to opening. As the COC is gearing up for its 2006 Ring Cycle premiere in the new opera house, its desire to attract and retain subscribers is evident in this season’s programming that is heavy on mainstream warhorses (Tosca, Rigoletto, Turandot), something infrequent in previous years. Tosca is a sure and safe bet, and is doing for the company just what it’s supposed to.

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