review: Puccini’s “Tosca” with Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu singing Tosca and Massimo Giordano as Cavaradossi at San Francisco Opera—3 remaining performances for Gheorghiu, 4 for Patricia Racette
An intoxicating beauty, a lecherous villain, boldfaced treachery and murder, topped off by a spectacular suicide: Puccini’s Tosca delivers high drama with a supremely lyrical score that never fails to mesmerize. San Francisco Opera (SFO) closes its fall season with a marvelous Tosca, conducted by SF Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti and featuring two renowned casts of principal singers, rotating between 12 performances. The role of Tosca is split between Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu and American soprano and former Adler Fellow, Patricia Racette —two very strong but different voices.
When Gheorghiu fell ill last Thursday (opening night) with an intestinal disorder, stand-in soprano Melody Moore—who opened SFO’s 2011 fall season as Susan Rescorla in the world premiere of Christopher Theofanidis’ Heart of a Solider—took over after the first intermission and reportedly did a splendid job. Gheorghiu was back for the Sunday matinee performance and sang magnificently through Act I bringing a sense of playfulness and flirtation to Floria Tosca as well as vulnerability and bravado. She had a natural chemistry with Italian tenor Massimo Giordano in his SFO debut as Mario Cavaradossi. (He splits the role with third-year Adler Fellow, American tenor Brian Jagde, paired with Racette.) Her Vissi d’arte, normally a moment for showing off, which requires her to use the range of her voice in full voice, was strained. She seemed tired, which is understandable after illness. She still managed to pull off some particularly fine lines and, after the intermission, was back in the driver’s seat for the less demanding Act III. She sang a particularly passionate duet with Giordano foretelling their future life far away from Rome. Her death leap from the parapet was rushed with far too little dramatic build-up. It seemed to parody what I imagined she must have been feeling: “I’m exhausted, let me get this over with.” She has sung this role splendidly many times and there is no reason to assume that she won’t rise to the occasion in full vocal luster when fully recovered.
In all, the star on Sunday was Italian tenor Giordano and the performance soared from the moment he climbed the scaffold in the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle and sang “Recondita armonia” while working on his portrait of Mary Magdalene. As he compares the fair beauty of Angelotti’s sister, the Marchesa Attavanti, upon whom the portrait is based, to that of his darker lover, Floria Tosca, he captured the audience. Giordano was well-matched with Gheorghiu as both are natural actors as well as consummate musicians and from their very first love duet, it was clear they had the chemistry that can ignite a performance. His voice! It’s powerful dramatic, impassioned and capable of great tenderness and he delivered them all in spades on Sunday. His solemn Act III aria “E lucevan le stille” (“And the stars shown”) sung while Cavaradossi waits on the roof of Castel Sant’Angelo for his execution, was fraught with apprehension. The aria was ushered in by a lovely clarinet solo by José González Granero, principal clarinet for the SFO Orchestra who also distinguished himself with a lush solo in last month’s The Capulets and the Montagues.
Italian baritone Roberto Frontali as Baron Scarpia, the evil police chief who is hell bent on using Cavaradossi’s republican sympathies and Tosca’s jealous nature to snare her for himself, sang with a rich voice that was so full of color, that it was hard to see him die. At the end of Act I, he passionately sang of his love for Tosca and his intentions of possessing her while the chorus sang a moving Te Deum while Luisotti expertly guided his orchestra—it was a grand musical moment. By the end of Act II, Scarpia fell dead, murdered by Tosca in one of the opera’s great dramatic moments. The success of Scarpia rests on being able to transform from being very genial one moment into an instrument of pure evil and depravity the next and Frontali’s singing, much stronger than his acting, certainly conveyed the requisite quixotic charm and hatred. (Frontali splits the role with Mark Delavan, who is paired with Racette).
Directed by former Adler fellow, Jose Maria Condemi, the production features a gorgeous series of tromp-l’oeil sets designed by Thierry Bosquet and inspired by a 1932 SFO production. The lush period costumes are also by Bosquet. His gorgeous gowns for Tosca feature exquisite embroidery and sensual bodices which fit the svelt Gheorghiu like a glove. In her crimson dress for Act II, she is gorgeously aflame…of course, it takes a certain attitude to really wear a dress like that and Gheorghiu’s just the diva to pull it off.
Sunday’s singing was backed up by Luisotti’s passionate conducting of the SFO orchestra and chorus and he drew the mood, musical intensity and emotion requisite for a compelling Tosca from them, clearly delighting the audience every step of the way. The final two performances will be conducted by Resident Conductor Giuseppe Finzi.
In 2009, Gheorghiu was invited to honor Grace Bumbry during the 32nd Annual Kennedy Center Honors, in Washington, DC. She performed “Vissi d’arte” in the presence of Barack and Michelle Obama and clearly had a great day—
Details: War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco. One of the last Beaux-Arts structures built in the United States, the Opera House seats 3,146, with 200 standing room places. Every performance features supertitles (English translations) projected above the stage, visible from every seat.
Remaining Performances: The seven remaining performances of Tosca are November 24 (8 p.m.), November 25 (2 p.m.), November 27 (8 p.m.), November 28 (7:30 p.m.), November 29 (7:30 p.m.), December 1 (8 p.m.) and December 2, 2012 (2 p.m.). Click here to see cast scheduling information. Tickets: $22 to $340 at the Box Office, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, by phone at (415) 864-3330 or purchase online here. Standing Room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance; $10 each, cash only.