Tosca comes to town . . . 'e lucevan le stelle'

Music Review

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The title part in Puccini's "Tosca" is one of the ultimate challenges for an operatic soprano. It requires a big voice, enormous stamina, temperament, personal magnetism, plus the ability to momentarily shed the wild histrionics at the opera's midpoint and tug at the audience's heartstrings in the great lyrical aria, "Vissi d'arte." After all, the character herself is the greatest diva of her time.

Saturday at the Benedum Center, Angela Brown fit all the requirements. Her portrayal may not have the maturity and subtlety of the greatest Toscas in living memory -- Maria Callas, Magda Olivero and Leontyne Price come to mind -- but Ms. Brown has a luscious, full-bodied sound that rides the orchestra and sustains all the technical vocal challenges; she has the fire and ice of a genuine diva, plus the passion and breadth of line to make her familiar solo both a prayer to the god who has deserted her and a personal indictment for offenses she may not have known she committed.

  • Where: Pittsburgh Opera at Benedum Center, Downtown.
  • When: 7 p.m. Tuesday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. Sunday.
  • Tickets: Start at $10. or 412-456-6666.

In addition she has a quality I've never seen in any other Tosca: humor. "Tosca's" plot hinges on torture, rape, murder, execution, police and church corruption, and suicide. Yet Ms. Brown invests a playfulness into the first act love duet, and a lightness of spirit in the final scenes when she thinks (wrongly) that her lover's execution is to be simulated, that gives the character a new and welcome facet. She also makes Tosca's jump off the ramparts at the end -- which can be ludicrous if not done just right -- convincing.

Matching the soprano in vocal force if not psychological dimension is the booming baritone of Mark Delavan as the evil police chief Scarpia. Mr. Delavan is suave and menacing, and he manages some steamy wrestling on the floor with Ms. Brown in the crucial scene. He's not a refined singer, but he scales the gamut and makes the right dramatic points.

As Mario Cavaradossi, the artist who has won Tosca's heart, young tenor Hugo Vera, who recently joined the Metropolitan Opera roster in supporting roles, is outclassed in this company. On opening night, his first aria, "Recondita armonia," was marred by rudimentary phrasing and high notes that were achieved but curtailed. The high outbursts that the role calls for later on were there, but at the edge of his capacities.

Conductor Antony Walker brought out a plethora of exciting details in Puccini's superb orchestration, which too often goes unnoticed. He was also with the singers at all times, providing high integration between stage and pit.

Kristine McIntyre's staging is traditional, with occasional touches of individuality. Just before Tosca's jump, when Tosca is being chased by the police agent Spoletta, she throws him down, and Spoletta allows her to kill herself rather than be captured. He is then taken by his own colleagues. The idea comes from Don Jose at the end of Act 1 of Bizet's "Carmen," and it doesn't quite work, but it's an intriguing addition.

Under Ms. McIntyre's direction, the ever-reliable Kevin Glavin makes the semi-comic role of the Sacristan more serious and dangerous than usual, singing the buffo lines as if they were bel canto. As the hunted escapee Angelotti (later doubling as the Jailor), resident artist Adam Fry impresses with his sonorous bass voice but has trouble with the more athletic requirements of the staging. Tenor Juan Jose de Leon and baritone Kyle Oliver, also resident artists, show a sense for the stage in their respective roles as Scarpia's henchmen, Spoletta and Sciarrone.

Post-Gazette senior editor Robert Croan: .


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