La cosa vera!
The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
01/21/2012 - & January 25, 29, 31, February 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 16, 21, 23, 25, 2012
Giacomo Puccini: Tosca
Adrianne Pieczonka (Tosca), Carlo Ventre (Cavaradossi), Mark Delavan (Scarpia), Peter Strummer, (Sacristan), Christian Van Horn (Ceasare Angelotti), David Cangelosi (Spoletta), Neil Craighead (Sciarrone), Emily Brown Gibson (A Shepher Boy), Adrian Kramer (A Jailor)
Canadian Opera Company Chorus, Sandra Horst (Chorus Master), Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Paolo Carignani (Conductor)
Paul Curran (Director), Kevin Knight (Set & Costume Designer), David Martin Jacques (Lighting Designer)
A. Pieczonka (© Michael Cooper)
In the six seasons since the Canadian Opera Company moved into the Four Seasons’ Centre Tosca is the first opera to given a second run - and just four years after its first outing. I was among many who grumbled about this, given that the company performs only seven productions in a season. All is forgiven.
This is Paul Curran’s third experience with the production as it has also been presented by the company he heads, Oslo’s Norwegian Opera. Instead of giving us a business-as-normal restatement, he has managed to present a staging that is both thoughtfully worked out and seemingly spontaneous. The opera is vigorously embraced by both director and conductor and their loving attention to detail and the big picture makes for a gripping experience.
The opening notes of the opera are famously declamatory. Under guest conductor Paolo Carignani they are delivered even more vehemently than usual. This leads to a performance notable for dramatic brio but also with all the requisite variety of tempo and mood.
Adrianne Pieczonka triumphs in the title role, giving her character both musical and dramatic elegance. Tosca can come across as a flibbertigibbet, but not here. She reminds me of a favourite Tosca of an earlier decade, Raina Kabaivanska.
Carlo Ventre treats us to an absolutely stentorian “Recondita Harmonia”. I realize “stentorian” has negative overtones, but in this case it means big, powerful and persuasive. He keeps it on track right to the last, steady, long-held note. If the ardent emotionalism inherent in such singing is deemed old-fashioned, then so are the bravos it receives from the delighted audience.
While Mark Delavan (also firm of voice) doesn’t emphasize the thuggish side of Scarpia, it is very clear that he gives orders to thugs, ably portrayed by David Cangelosi as Spoletta and Neil Craighead as Sciarrone, a somewhat dim thug-in-training.
Making a welcome return to the company is Peter Strummer as the irascible Sacristan. Mr Strummer seems to be channeling the vintage film actor S. Z. Sakall to excellent effect.
David Martin Jacques atmospheric lighting is superbly in synch with the handsome sets, especially in Act I where it helps suggest a vast, incense-filled church. The set for Act III remains the best ever, giving exactly the right space for all the actions called for, most importantly the frantic pursuit of Tosca at the very end.
COC Directors Alexander Neef’s casting skills are much in evidence once again. There are some interesting cast changes later in the 14-performance run, with Julie Makerov (whose recent Senta with the company was phenomenally intense) performing Tosca, and rising star tenor Brandon Jovanovich as Cavaradossi.
For the past 112 years critics have tried to do to Tosca what Tosca does to Scarpia. They have failed utterly and performances like this are the reason why.