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Sardou vis à vis Puccini

American Center for Puccini Studies
07/12/2008 -  and July 13
Victorien Sardou: La Tosca
Giacomo Puccini: Tosca

Dave Gumula (Father Eusebio, Sacristan/Paisiello), Arden Moscati (Gennarino/Viscount Trevilhac/A soldier)), Harry Dunstan (Mario Cavaradossi, Trivulzio), Jim Camlek (Cesare Angelotti/Marquis Attavanti), Kay Krekow (Floria Tosca), Brenda Gumula (Luciana/Princess Orlania), Bryan Jackson (Baron Vilellio Scarpia), Thomas Frenz (Schiarrone/Sciarrone), Mattia D’Affuso (Capreola/Spoletta), Doris Makari (Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples), Sarah Fagan (Shepherdess), John Weddell (Jailor)
The Puccini Festival Chorus, Children’s Chorus, and Festival Camerata, Dr. Alfred Clark (concert master), Maestro Glenn Quader (conductor)

  Victorien Sardou                   Giacomo Puccini

The American Center for Puccini Studies, under the leadership of Dr. Harry N. Dunstan, strives to elucidate its performances with the latest scholarship on the operas of Puccini, removing the encrusted “barnacles” of bad tradition. “Tradition,” as Toscanini once said, “is the last bad performance!” The ACPS production of Tosca was certainly notable for its fidelity to Puccini’s original intentions and markings in the score.

For those interested patrons and public ACPS (known as Puccini America) presented a dramatic reading of Victorien Sardou’s original play, in a new translation by Dr. Dunstan, incorporating the music asked for by Sardou to underscore certain parts of the script. Mozart and Paisiello being among the composers called for by Sardou. The play calls for many more players than the opera does, however the same singers who performed those roles in the opera portrayed those roles that are duplicated in the play.

It was a revelation to see just how much Puccini’s librettist, Luigi Illica, lifted directly from the play. It would be hard, because of the historical context and the subject matter, not to make a comparison of Sardou’s play to Giordano’s opera Andrea Chenier. La Tosca like Andrea Chenier is filled with many minor characters that surround the major characters. And whereas Giordano gives life to these smaller roles, Puccini omits most of them in La Tosca, paring down the cast to only the most essential roles and merely mentioning the others where needed, such as the Queen of Naples or General Melas. The new translation by Dr. Dunstan was excellent as was the dramatic reading, and this rare performance of Sardou’s play shed a great deal of light on Puccini’s opera which followed on the next evening.

The performance of Puccini’s Tosca had much to recommend, particularly the singing of the three main principals. Soprano Kay Krekow is a wonderfully moving artist. She possesses an enormous, lush, and effortlessly produced voice. Seldom have I ever heard the many High C screams of Act II sustained so well. Ms. Krekow is also a superb actress. Her rendition of the famous aria “Vissi d’Arte” combined the best aspects of drama and singing into a rare experience. Puccini would have been pleased.

As her lover, the painter/political activist, Mario Cavaradossi, tenor Harry Dunstan did not sound quite warmed up in Act I, but he was cooking with all four burners by Act III, rising with Ms. Krekow to a magnificently sustained High C in their final duet. He was wonderfully touching in the aria “E lucevan le stele,” giving a musically enlightened performance which eschewed the standard and hackneyed fermati and portamenti observed by most tenors employing the worst traditions.

Baritone Bryan Jackson was suavely sinister and malevolent in his portrayal of the evil Baron Scarpia, chief of police. His voice is impressive in its size and rich timbre. He had no trouble whatever is soaring over the large chorus in the “Te Deum” which concludes Act I. Mr. Jackson was also convincing in the melodramatic histrionics of his death scene. This can be an embarrassing moment with modern audiences, but his commitment to delivering the scene “come scritto” made it all the more believable.

The secondary roles were taken by the students of the ACPS and were credibly done. Puccini America also boasts a large and excellent chorus. The chorus was particularly robust in the Act II cantata, giving Baron Scarpia all the more reason to slam his window shut to block out the intrusion of the music.

The one weakness of the opera performance was unfortunately the conductor, Glenn Quader. He seemed to be completely bored by everything going on, and certainly no one was paying any attention to him, especially the singers, who gave him nary a glance! He was downright dull in the “Te Deum,” leading the chorus in a completely square and embarrassingly un-phrased and poorly shaped rendition. Veteran concertmaster, Dr. Alfred Clark, was obviously leading the performance. Puccini America needs a conductor that is as enthusiastic and energetic about Puccini as is obviously everyone else involved.

A facet of the production worth noting was the most enjoyable “Caffé di Simo,” which offered donors of ACPS, before the opera and during the intermissions, gourmet beverages and light fare accompanied by song performances in the “salon style” by students at Puccini America. A lovely cocoa cake with whipped cream and an espresso inspired me during a rousing rendition of Leoncavallo’s “Mattinata” by tenor Donato Soranno. It all went down very well.

Micaele Sparacino



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