Loved to Death
American Center for Puccini Studies
Giacomo Puccini: Tosca
Kay Krekow (Floria Tosca), Carlos Ibay (Mario Cavaradossi), Daryl Ott (Baron Scarpia), Franco Mavilia (Angelotti/the Jailer), Daniel Sherwood (the Sacristan/Sciarrone), Joseph Horowitz (Spoletta), Erin Twardochleb (A Shepherdess)
The ACPS Chorus, Michael Baitzer (Pianist/Conductor), Harry Dunstan (Organ/Bells/Assistant Conductor)
K. Krekow (©D. Chisham)
The Rosina Maciejko Developing Artist Program of the American Center for Puccini Studies (PucciniAmerica) presented an excellent concert version of Puccini’s tragic and violent melodrama Tosca this past Sunday afternoon in Silver Spring, MD, at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church. The production featured distinguished young emerging vocal artists with the superb and seasoned Puccini veteran Kay Krekow in the starring role of Floria Tosca.
PucciniAmerica’s emerging artist program is in many ways comparable to the Cafritz-Domingo Young Artist’s Program of the Washington National Opera. It takes highly screened and exceptional vocal talents, who are ready to embark upon a professional career, and gives them the final polishing they need in stage deportment, lyric diction, interpretation, ensemble, and so forth, with a definite distinction being the emphasis on the performance style and tradition of the operas of Giacomo Puccini. In reference to lyric diction, it was indeed remarkable to hear such clear and idiomatic Italian being sung by all of the artists.
Carlos Ibay, who was making his vocal debut as Mario Cavaradossi, is an extraordinary talent. He has been blind since birth, and working with such a severe handicap he is, in addition to being the possessor of a beautiful lyric tenor voice, a breathtakingly virtuoso pianist. In fact he opened the concert, in lieu of an overture, with the Franz Liszt concert paraphrase on Verdi’s Rigoletto! It was a dazzling performance and radioed to the audience, in no uncertain terms, that this was not to be just another presentation of Tosca. Mr. Ibay certainly did not disappoint in the opera. His opening aria, “Recondita armonia”, rang with a clarion brilliance and a very secure top Bb. His singing was consistent throughout the performance, and his voice had plenty of the required “oompf” and squillo for Cavaradossi’s impassioned outbursts. He also had an abundance of charm, suavity and tenderness, which he displayed in the first act love duet with Ms. Krekow and in his final aria “E lucevan le stelle”. Carlos Ibay is a handsome young man who also fluently speaks four or five languages. With so much going for him, providing he can acquire, with luck, the promotion of an Andrea Bocelli, he could have a very promising career. ACPS must be heartily thanked for their support and promotion of this truly deserving young artist.
Baritone Daryl Ott has been blessed with a naturally dark timbre, enormous volume, and an intimidating vocal snarl, which make him simply ideal as Scarpia. It is not an exaggeration to say that his voice possesses the finest qualities of both Cornell MacNeil and Tito Gobbi. He was menacing from the first notes of his entrance. His interplay with Tosca was telling and he proved dramatically potent in all of his scenes. He seemed however, less secure musically than the other artists as his head was often buried in the score. Mr. Ott is also obviously a “natural” singer. As effective as his voice was, it was nonetheless “all over the place”, displaying no real vocal line or evenness of tone throughout the registers. I could not decide whether he had poor technique or no technique, but as an emerging artist this is one area in which he must spend more time developing.
Among the comprimario artists, all of whom were very good, baritone Franco Mavilia, who sang both Angelotti and the Jailer, had the finest voice. It was completely even in its production and is absolutely gorgeous with its rich and velvety tone. He is ready for a career now, and would be excellent, with his fine looks, in such roles as Marcello (La bohème), Dr. Malatesta (Don Pasquale), or Silvio (I pagliacci). Daniel Sherwood, who was very musically solid, was also impressive in his ability to alternate characterizations as both the Sacristan and Scarpia’s henchman Sciarrone. He has a strong and appealing voice, which will enable him to handle much larger roles as his career progresses. Joseph Horowitz, who sang the villainous role of Spoletta, another one of Baron Scarpia’s henchmen, is still in High School, but he managed quite well to hold his own against the others onstage. Young Erin Twardochleb made an awkward appearance onstage at the Shepherdess. Her lovely, sweet voice would have been used to better advantage had she been heard singing offstage as indicated in the score.
In the title role of Floria Tosca, soprano Kay Krekow gave a powerful and riveting performance.
She is in her prime vocally, and having had this role in her repertoire for some years now she is able to detail the part with many nuances and colors. There is hardly a measure of Puccini’s music that does not cry out for stage movement and gesture, but as evidenced in so many great recorded performances, true operatic drama is found in the voice. Even Zinka Milanov, who was a notoriously bad actress on stage, sounded just as dramatic as Maria Callas when listening to her on recording. And so it followed that Ms. Krekow, while standing in her concert posture, was able to visualize for us her romance and jealousy of Mario Cavaradossi, her murder of Baron Scarpia, and her final suicidal leap from the top of the Castel Sant’Angelo. She is very impressive in the maturity of her artistry. It was a special thrill to hear the brilliance with which she “nailed” the many treacherous High C’s which are called for by Puccini in this score. Ms. Krekow’s rendition of the famous aria “Vissi d’Arte, Vissi d’Amore” (I lived for Art, I lived for Love) was particularly moving and as beautifully sung as one would ever hear in any major opera house. William Ashbrook, the great musicologist and biographer of Puccini and Donizetti, considered Ms. Krekow one of the finest Puccini sopranos of her generation. She gave ample reason for why he felt this way throughout the entire performance.
The chorus of the ACPS is a sonorous and musically strong ensemble. There is not a lot of choral music in Tosca, however there is a brilliant “Te Deum” that brings Act I to a rousing conclusion, and an offstage cantata with La Tosca in Act II. The chorus sang like a professional ensemble, and they rang the rafters of the church in the Act I finale.
For a concert given by primarily young developing artists, this production was both a surprise and a cause for celebration in the high level of musical and dramatic standards that were maintained. The hidden star of the afternoon was pianist/conductor Maestro Michael Baitzer, a principal vocal coach of both the Washington National Opera and the Doming-Cafritz Young Artist program. His energy and direction propelled the drama in the music throughout. He supported and led the singers, while even covering them when they momentarily strayed. He seemed to have ten fingers on each hand as he made the piano reduction of the score sound like an entire orchestra. Maestro Baitzer is a miracle in his myriad abilities. General Director Dr. Harry Dunstan also lent a hand by conducting the offstage chorus and by also playing the organ and bells as called for in the score. His assistance greatly enhanced the orchestral effect of Maestro Baitzer’s piano accompaniment.
This artist development program, and the production of Tosca, was funded by one generous donor, Ms. Rosina Maciejko. Would there were more patrons like her. As we all know too well, funding for the arts and artist programs in the United States has dropped to an all time low. In spite of the current poor economy the American Center for Puccini Studies is doing a remarkable job. Evviva Puccini!