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Tosca Delivers Opening One-Two Punch

San Diego
San Diego Opera
01/24/2009 -  and 27, 30 January and February 1 and 4, 2009
Giacomo Puccini: Tosca
Sylvie Valayre (Tosca), Marcus Haddock (Cavaradossi), Greer Grimsley (Scarpia), Jamie Offenbach (Angelotti/Sciarrone), Scott Sikon (Sacristan), Joseph Hu (Spoletta), Samuel Spade (Jailer), Laura Portune (Shepherd Boy)
Jeff Thayer (Concertmaster), Edoardo Müller (Conductor)
Andrew Sinclair (Director), Jean-Pierre Ponnelle (Scenic Designer), Suzanne Mess (Costume Designer), Steven W. Bryant (Wig and Makeup Designer), Ron Vodicka (Lighting Designer)

S. Valayre (Tosca), G. Grimsley (Scarpia) (© San Diego Opera)

It’s a strange coincidence that exactly two hundred years (on a centennial) separate the historical timeline setting for Giacomo Puccini’s fifth opera, Tosca, from its premier which both originate in the historic city of Rome. In a word, Tosca (1900) is precision: taut plot, nonstop action, contrasting characters, colorful orchestration and pinpoint landmarks. In 1897 Puccini paid a visit to The Eternal City so he could personally witness elements which eventually found way into his score: sounds of church bells heard high atop Castello Sant’Angelo and religious details gleaned from priest Don Pietro Panichelli.

This continuity holds fast under Andrew Sinclair’s deft direction that includes the right chemistry of Puccini’s three principals, delivering a one-two punch production. Set against the splendidly lavish returning sets of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle we first see Marcus Haddock tackle the role of Cavaradossi with unhesitating alacrity and passion with long sustained legatos that are most pronounced particularly in the tenor’s rendition of “E lucevan le stelle” in Act III with thunderous applause.

Paired with Haddock is the gifted Frenchwoman Sylvie Valayre personifying Tosca most credibly in her vocal and dramatic fireworks. Her interpretation of the protagonist is refreshing and vivacious. Portraying her role in Act I as a rather innocuous, flirtatious young girl, she swiftly transforms into a woman of tremendous substance and maturity in Act II’s Farnese Palace where she whittles her way through emotional battle hearing Cavaradossi’s torture offstage while standing up to the sexual aggressions of Scarpia sung by returning baritone Greer Grimsley. Tension abounds in this Puccini verismo opera, but catapults us beyond the register during the Tosca/Scarpia conflict. Valayre’s interpretation of the famed soprano aria, “Vissi d’arte”, is electrifying and edgy. Scarpia suits Mr. Grimsley with inherent fashion, and he epitomizes a vein of organic evil that fits snugly into the score.

After the successful run of last year’s Maria Stuarda, Ron Vodicka returns as lighting director, forever mindful of accentuating the details of Ponnelle’s sets and particularly poised to convey time of day, an integral component of this opera. Vodicka’s use of splayed light is cleverly ominous with the entrance to the torture chamber. As the curtain rises on Act III, we witness a starry dawn sky on the roof of Castel Sant’Angelo that compliments Edoardo Müller’s brilliant orchestration while the translucent voice of Laura Portune as the Shepherd Boy pleasingly lifts us into the heavens.

Additionally, Mr. Vodicka maximizes the visual delights of Suzanne Mess’ apropos period dress and Steven W. Bryant’s gifted makeup and wig craftsmanship. Jamie Offenbach’s dual role as Angelotti and Sciarrone are sufficient enough as is the acting and singing talents of remaining cast members including Scott Sikon as the Sacristan and Samuel Spade as the jailer.

San Diego Opera is fortunate to have Puccini’s operatic thriller, Tosca open their 2009 international season, and is well worth a visit to downtown San Diego. This is a first rate production in every way.

Christie Grimstad



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