* Notes *
Tosca (Act II pictured, photograph by David Allen) opened at Opera San José in an effective production directed by Tara Branham last weekend. The singing was all very powerful, the action straightforward, and the Sunday matinee was a richly satisfying afternoon of theater.
This is the quintessential opera, the title character is an opera singer after all, and Branham doesn't interfere with much, everything is crystal clear as far as the staging. Perhaps things were a little too spelled out for those who have seen this opera dozens of times, the large knife in the turkey in Act II felt very obvious.
I did like that Branham had Cavaradossi having a tryst with a pretty blonde in the background as the Sacristan sang in the beginning of the opera. It made Tosca's jealous behavior seem less irrational, and I appreciated that Cavaradossi has more than one side to his character.
Puccini's music is flexible enough to sound fine despite some lack of nuance and less than perfect moments in the orchestra. The violins in particular seem to have issues with being in tune with each other, there was one awfully odd moment in Act II after Cavaradossi was brought out, but it was truly only a few seconds. The woodwinds and harp sounded very lovely.
Likewise, the singing, while not ideal at all times, was strong and dramatic. Soprano Maria Natale certainly is striking as Tosca. Her icy and robust voice is distinctive, it just is on the line between pretty and ugly, which is very interesting for this role which isn't quite heroic. Tenor Adrian Kramer is a dashing Cavaradossi, his volume is good, though it's clear he's putting in a ton of effort. This is a contrast to baritone Kidon Choi whose voice is almost too pretty for the slimy Scarpia. Choi was able to be brutish but he was never unctuous.
Baritone Robert Balonek was plaintive as Angelotti, baritone Igor Vieira comic as the Sacristan, and Justin Vives sounded secure as the Shepherd Boy.
The set, designed by Steven C. Kemp, sticks to the libretto, everything looks as one would expect, as the scenes are very specific in place and time. There are no scene changes that occur outside of the intermissions, thus there were no awkward lulls.
The costumes from Elizabeth Poindexter were rather numerous and delightful. Tosca's white and gold performance gown in Act II is very sumptuous, and Christina Martin did an excellent job with Tosca's wigs, she had some very fancy updos.
Someone in Row C sang along with "E lucevan le stelle" in Act III, but for the most part people didn't talk that much during the singing. We were behind a service dog who was quiet but seemed distressed for the humans in Act II.