Tosca restores faith for disillusioned opera fan

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April 9, 2013

Tosca
Pacific Opera Victoria
The Royal Theatre
April 4, 6, 10 & 12 at 8 pm
Sunday Matinee April 14 at 2:30 pm

Reviewed by Andrea Routley

What comes to mind when you hear the word, “opera”? Viking horns and yellow braids? How about “Italian opera”? Sopranos in velvety robes, collapsing under the weight of their own agony? Lust, murder, star-crossed sort of thing?

Then you’re probably thinking of Tosca, one of Puccini’s most famous operas, which first premiered in Rome in 1900. It has often been dismissed by critics, but the singers, director, production designer, instrumentalists, and the many others involved in Pacific Opera’s production, as well as the audience which packed house at the Royal Theatre on Saturday, feel differently.

What is really praise-worthy about this production are the understated aesthetics and direction which actually made all this slap-stick emotional climaxing seem, well, almost genuine.

Production designer Christina Poddubiuk presents a set of rustic, bare wood scaffolding which plays the role of church, police chief office, prison cell and battlements. I appreciated this for the way it evoked the cages the characters find themselves in, but also provided a modern, muted aesthetic. This, combined with relatively simple costuming–solid colour dresses for Floria Tosca, unadorned uniforms for Scarpia’s henchman–compensated for all the flashy melodrama.

The highlight for me was tenor Luc Robert, who played the role of Tosca’s lover, Cavaradossi. His voice is silky–almost boyish, but offered a nuanced, raspy quality now and then which gave depth to the character. Opera is not praised for the acting, something which typically takes a back seat to the musicianship (not to mention the years of practice in Italian diction and storming around stages without tripping over long heavy dresses). Not surprisingly, this was also the weakest element in this production, but Robert really impressed me. His movements were natural and organic–there was no cheesy arm-acting or “ta-da!” physicality from Robert. It looked as though he were really listening to what the other characters were saying, and responding authentically to that in a complex and elegant way. His response to Tosca’s coquettish insecurity in Act One, for example, was at once tender, patronising, and subservient.

This production also offered a colourful variety of voices. If you’re an opera newbie, you may think one tenor sounds just like another, but pay special attention to Scarpia’s henchman, Spoletta, played by Michel Corbeil. His voice has a watery, burbling quality to it that is totally exciting.

Finally, thank you to the director, Amiel Gladstone: The last time I saw a production of Tosca, I almost left after the second act. I stayed for the third. Stuff happened, then Tosca spun around and leaped off a fake building, in front of a fake pastoral scene. “Oh, for chrissakes,” I said, peeved.

But you, my dearest Gladstone, have waved your wand to give us a perfect death.

Curtain.

“Nice.”

My faith in opera: restored.

 

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