Opera San José's Tosca

Opera-San-Jose_Tosca-2023_Credit-David-Allen_0803_Resized-scaled* 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.

*Tattling *
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.

SF Opera's Tosca

_37A5746* Notes * 
The new production of Tosca (Act II with Scott Hendricks as Scarpia, Joel Sorensen as Spoletta, and Carmen Giannattasio as Tosca pictured left; photograph by Cory Weaver) that opened last night at San Francisco Opera is an ideal first opera. The set looks like a meticulous reproduction of the places featured within Rome and the singing is strong. The young cast looks very convincing.

I don't think I've ever seen a Tosca that didn't try to recreate Sant'Andrea della Valle, Palazzo Farnese, and Castel Sant'Angelo, since they are such specific locales. This offering, designed by Robert Innes Hopkins, is no exception, but it was impressive how real everything looked. The costumes also look very genuine, there are no gratuitous wardrobe changes, Tosca doesn't even put on a coat to fetch Cavaradossi before their would-be escape. Shawna Lucey's direction is straightforward and effective. Act II was especially disturbing, Scarpia's sexual violence against Tosca is all the more palpable in light of current events and I winced from those scenes, even at the back of the balcony.

The cast is uniformly fine both vocally and dramatically. I was able to spot Hadleigh Adams (Angelotti), Dale Travis (a sacristan) and Joel Sorensen (Spoletta) right away, even without looking at the program, so often have I heard these singers from the War Memorial stage. Tenor Brian Jadge has also performed Cavaradossi here many times, and did well. His voice is as loud as ever, and his arias sounded great. His fall in Act III looked alarmingly authentic.

Soprano Carmen Giannattasio has a lovely vulnerablity as Tosca, her "Vissi d'arte" alone is worth the price of admission and she sang prostrate on the stage, but this did not seem to have any influence on the volume of her voice at all. She did sound shrill at times at first, but that suits the jealous questioning and nagging of her part in Act I. Scott Hendricks completely embodied Scarpia, he was slick and repulsive, his voice sounded suitably powerful.

Maestro Leo Hussain conducted the orchestra with vigor that bordered on chaos in Act I, but improved over time. There was a gorgeous solo from the harp and the brass played out with clarity.

* Tattling * 
The audience was sparse, and the latecomers in the last row north of center were terribly ill-behaved and talked so much that I had to move to the other side of the balcony to get away from them. Because there were not many people back there, they were even audible from that distance.

I don't know if it is because I have two little kids of my own, but children's voices in opera often creep me out now. Zachary Zele as the shepherd boy made me completely uncomfortable.

SF Opera's Tosca

Sf-opera-tosca-actiii1-2014* Notes * 
Another revival of Tosca (Brian Jagde as Cavaradossi and Mark Delavan as Scarpia in Act III pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened last night at San Francisco Opera. Lianna Haroutounian had a fine debut on the War Memorial stage as Floria Tosca. She clearly has an emotional connection to the role and this was palpable even from the very back of the house. Her singing is passionate and her voice has strength yet can be sweet. Cavaradossi suits Brian Jagde, and his gleaming voice was a good match for Haroutounian. On the other hand, Mark Delavan seemed somewhat shaky, especially at first. His Scarpia is certainly gritty and cruel.

The rest of the cast was quite good. Dale Travis is always funny as the Sacristan and Joel Sorensen mincing yet threatening as Spoletta. Adlers Efraín Solís (Sciarrone) and Hadleigh Adams (Jailer) also sang well.

Riccardo Frizza conducted a rapid orchestra that had a lovely transparency of sound. The clarinets and bassoons were particularly wonderful in Act II. The harp sounded clear throughout the performance, as did the strings.

The opera house seemed full and the audience was enthused. This time-honored production, directed by Jose Maria Condemi, is a crowd-pleaser.

* Tattling * 
The audience was mostly quiet, but there was a man in the back of the balcony who had to make sure the people around him knew to pay attention to "Vissi d'arte" and "E lucevan le stelle."

Patricia Racette as Tosca at SF Opera

Tosca-sfopera-racette* Notes * 
The second performance of Tosca at San Francisco Opera featured three different principals (Patricia Racette as Tosca and Brian Jagde as Cavaradossi pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) to fairly fine effect. Patricia Racette's portrayal of Tosca is dramatically convincing. Though the timbre of her vibrato always makes this listener uncomfortable, she sings with a lot of fire. Racette's quieter passages can be quite pretty. She is a great actress, and despite being less than willowy, all her movements are easily read even from the back of the house. Her "Vissi d'Arte" was moving.

Brian Jagde has a bright, occasionally brassy, sound as Cavaradossi. His voice shows a good deal of emotion: cheeriness at the beginning, subsequent anger at Scarpia, and then tenderness with Tosca. He got carried away with the second "Vittoria" in Act II, but sang a poignant "E lucevan le stelle." Mark Delavan's performance of Scarpia was less ardent, and there were moments in Act I when he was completely drowned out by the orchestra. One longs for a bit more heft and weight for this role. Delavan improved in Act II, he was more audible and the attractiveness of his voice became more apparent.

* Tattling * 
There were significantly fewer latecomers to this performance compared to the first one on Thursday. There was some whispering, but no serious ill-mannered behavior was noted in the back of the balcony.

Tosca at San Francisco Opera

Tosca-pieczonka * Notes * 
The summer part of San Francisco Opera's season began last night with Tosca. The 1997 production is based on the one that inaugurated the War Memorial Opera House in 1932, and for that reason, is rather old-fashioned. It was interesting to note the differences between the current revival and the last one, for instance, the trompe-l'œil pyramid of cannonballs is gone from Act III, a welcome change.

The orchestra sounded clean and together under the direction of Marco Armiliato, and the tempi moderate. Lado Ataneli was an animated Scarpia, at times he was underpowered vocally, but for the most part, he sounded hale. On the other hand, the tenor, Carlo Ventre, was more delicate. He had a lot of vibrato, which along with his reedy, plaintive qualities, gave him a certain vulnerability. Ventre sounded weak in contrast to the other singers, but was not bad on his own, as in "E lucevan le stelle." Adrianne Pieczonka (Tosca) had a fine debut, she only had brief moments harshness, her voice is strong and rich. Her "Vissi d'arte" was brilliant.

* Tattling * 
The audience spoke a bit too much for my taste, but were mostly under control. I was standing in front of someone who talked, almost at full volume, to himself. At least he spoke about the performance, commenting on how beautiful the singing was. Standing room was rather full, as were the seats on the orchestra level, but the boxes looked relatively empty.

Tosca at Unter den Linden

The Opernphrenologe was recently in Berlin and what follows is her rather entertaining review of Tosca. A review of Eugene Onegin is forthcoming.

   * Notes *
The set was boring, so boring. Are these people on a budget or something?  I can't even describe it, it was so dull.

As for the cast, Tosca (Micaele Carosi) was flat on the high notes and sometimes had too much trill.  Cavaradossi (Burkhard Fritz) was a weak, quiet singer. He also was raspy at the start of words (except when he sang a duet with Tosca, in which he was decent). It sounded like over-enunciation. Scarpia (Gerd Grochowski) was pretty good, but sometimes he was drowned out by the orchestra.  But my favorite was der Mesner der Kirche (Bernd Zettisch), who was just the cutest little hunchback with such adorable comic facial expressions!

During Act I, a bunch of little kids fell down when Scarpia entered. The kids were dressed as choirboys. Then at the end of Act I, there's some weird Catholic ceremony scene as Scarpia sang his solo about how he's lecherous. I think we've all heard enough about paedophilia in the Catholic church, do we really have to see it represented in opera?

During the second act, the set became much more exciting because of the addition of a bowl of fruit. I sincerely hoped that Scarpia would be stabbed to death with a fruit, but alas the director did not share my views on what makes good opera. I liked Tosca's dress, which was some red velvet thing.

Finally in the third act, the opera improved. Cavardossi was severely beaten and they evidently stuck red tape on his face to show this. It was so absurd! Scarpia died so badly, it was funny! I laughed so much. He squirmed around quite a bit before finally dying properly. The best part of the opera came when Cavardossi died and we didn't have to hear him sing anymore.

* Tattling * 
Lots to tell, dear readers. An opera coot in the second tier was glued to her binoculars in the pauses immediately before the opera resumed. I've never seen anyone stare so blatantly at other opera patrons! It was so bad that I felt compelled to photograph her, she was such a novelty! During the pause between the second and third acts, this coot evidently found something titillating in the center of the second tier, because she became quite agitated and then tried to hide her binocularitis behind a giant black fan. Her attempts were totally pointless though, since it was still obvious what she was doing.

I sat behind six French people, and I'm sorry to report that I have a very bad impression of French opera-goers. These people talked and talked and talked! My goodness. On my left was a German mother-daughter pair. The daughter dressed up for the opera by wearing some powder blue fur thing around her neck and fancy white gloves, which I liked quite a bit. Unfortunately, they talked too.

I saw an abnormally large amount of what I will politely refer to as "sucky-face" at the opera.  Fortunately it was mostly during the intermission, but I have to wonder, is Tosca the sucky-face opera?

Tosca at Berkeley Opera

Tosca_Berkeley_Opera * Notes *
 Yesterday's matinée performance of Tosca ended Berkeley Opera's 2008 season. The main conceit of the production, directed by Barbara Heroux, was an upstage pentagon screen on which images were projected. The images alternated between representing the physical scene and showing the internal state of the characters. The latter were invariably paintings from famous Italians, including Titian, Tintoretto, and Caravaggio. The costumes were attractive, especially Tosca's Act II red gown, which was flattering and well-made.

The orchestra sounded fairly good under Jonathan Khuner, though there were a few times when the singers were just a hair ahead of the players. The singing and acting from Michael Crozier (Jailer), Steven Hoffmann (Angelotti), and Nicolas Aliaga (Sciarrone) were all fine. Bass John Bischoff (Sacristan) was particularly good, not only was he funny, his voice is quite nice. José Hernández was a touch quiet as Spoletta, though his voice is not unpleasant. John Minàgro (Scarpia) lacked heft, and at times one could not hear the actual words he was singing, though the notes were discernable.

Tenor Kevin Courtemanche did not make for a dashing Cavaradossi, but his voice was beautifully lucid. His Act III aria "E lucevan le stelle" was the strongest moment of the performance. As for Tosca herself, soprano Jillian Khuner sounded both heartbreaking and lovely during "Vissi d'arte." However, she had a rather wide vibrato and did occasionally sound painfully shrill.

* Tattling *
For the most part, the audience was well-behaved, no watch alarms were able to sound because of the two intermissions, and no cellular phones rang. There was much cellophane unwrapped during the beginning of Act II.
However, I was bullied out of my seat for the last act. I was over in the left side section, in the last row, and it was rather splendid as there were only 4 or 5 people in these seats, so everyone was nicely spread out. Also, the supertitles were half-obscured, so I was able to ignore them with ease.

An obese woman had been sitting near the back, three seats in on the left. She was not comfortable as she had a cough and did not exactly fit in her seat. In fact, a person next to her tried to make more room by trading seats with a smaller companion. Just before Act III, the woman in question was speaking to her companion and pointed at me, then sat directly in front of me in the left side section, as the seats here had no arms. I could tell that she was not going to be considerate, so I moved to the last row in the middle section. The woman moved into the seat I had been in, moved the chairs around, and unwrapped cough drops.

San Diego Opera's 2009 Season

January 24- February 4 2009: Tosca
February 14-22 2009: Don Quixote
March 28- April 8 2009: Rigoletto
April 18-26 2009: Peter Grimes
May 9-20 2009: Madama Butterfly

Perhaps I should take my mother to the Madama Butterfly in San Diego next year, instead of the Los Angeles production this Fall, as the stage direction will undoubtedly be more conservative. Patricia Racette is singing Butterfly in San Diego. Anthony Dean Griffey is singing the title role of Peter Grimes, as he did at the Met. Marina Domashenko, who was great as Carmen at San Francisco Opera, was to Dulcinea in Don Quixote. She has decided not to add the role to her repertoire, and will be replaced by Denyce Graves.

Official Site | LA Times Article

Paris Opera's 2008-2009 Season

September 6-11 2008: Eugene Onegin
September 24- November 2 2008: Rigoletto
October 11- November 2 2008: The Bartered Bride
October 13- November 12 2008: Cunning Little Vixen
October 30- December 3 2008: Tristan und Isolde
November 17- December 23 2008: Die Zauberflöte
November 25- December 21 2008: Fidelio
January 17-30 2009: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
January 24- February 8 2009: Yvonne, princesse de Bourgogne
January 29- March 4 2009: Madama Butterfly
February 27- March 22 2009: Idomeneo
February 28- March 26 2009: Werther
April 4- May 8 2009: Macbeth
April 10- May 23 2009: Un ballo in maschera
May 4-18 2009: The Makropulos Affair
May 20- June 5 2009: Tosca
June 13-21 2009: Demofoonte
June 18- July 2009: King Roger

Riccardo Muti conducts Demofoonte. Waltraud Meier sings Isolde opposite of Clifton Forbis. Paul Groves sings the title role of Idomeneo, with Joyce DiDonato as Idamante and Camilla Tilling as Ilia. Rolando Villazon shares the role of Werther with Marcus Haddock. Deborah Voigt shares the role of Amelia with Angela Brown and Ulrica Elena Manistina.

2008-2009 Schedule | Official Site

ROH's 2008-2009 Season

September 8- October 4 2008: Don Giovanni
September 16-29 2008: La fanciulla del West
September 23- October 10 2008: La Calisto
October 11-18 2008: La Bohème
October 23- November 11 2008: Matilde di Shabran
November 9-24 2008: Elektra
November 25- December 13 2008: Les Contes d'Hoffmann
December 9 2008- January 1 2009: Hänsel und Gretel
December 22- January 23 2008: Turandot
January 20-31 2009: The Beggar's Opera
January 27- February 17 2009: Die Tote Stadt
February 10 -25 2009: Rigoletto
February 23- March 10 2009: Der fliegende Holländer
March 2- April 11 2009: I Capuleti e i Montecchi
March 31- April 20 2009: Dido and Aeneas/Acis and Galatea
April 13- May 7 2009: Il trovatore
April 27- May 16 2009: Lohengrin
May 12-25 2009: L'elisir d'Amore
June 4-20 2009: Lulu
June 19- July 6 2009: La Traviata
June 26- July 18 2009: Un Ballo en Maschera
July 7-18 2009: Il barbiere di Siviglia
July 9-18 2009: Tosca

Simon Keenlyside and Mariusz Kwiecien share the role of Don Giovanni, and Keenlyside also sings Figaro in Il barbiere. David Alden has his ROH debut directing a production of La Calisto from Bayerische Staatsoper. Bryn Terfel is singing in Holländer and Tosca, while Deborah Voigt sings the title role of the latter. Renée Fleming is singing opposite Joseph Calleja in La Traviata and Thomas Hampson sings Germont. Die Tote Stadt has its UK premiere, Ingo Metzmacher will conduct. The production is from Salzburg and is the one that will be at San Francisco Opera this September. Lucas Meachem will be singing Aeneas in his ROH debut.

Bloomberg Article | Press Release [PDF] |Official Site

Arizona Opera's 2008-2009 Season

October 11-19 2008: Rigoletto
November 15-23 2008:
The Mikado
January 17-25 2009: L'Elisir d'Amore
February 21- March 1 2009: Don Giovanni
March 26- April 5 2009: Tosca

Stephanie Blythe sings in The Mikado and Twyla Robinson sings Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni.

2008-2009 Season Site | Official Site


Sara Jobin conducted this particular performance of Tosca, and it was her San Francisco Opera debut, and the first time a woman has conducted during the main season of this opera house. The production is one owned by San Francisco Opera, and is revived every two or three years.

Soprano Carol Vaness has the dubious honor of being one of my least favorite singers. She was much more quiet than previously as Floria Tosca and somewhat breathy.

Pumpkin Eater

Halloween is my favorite holiday, though I think I could do without the time change that always happens before it. We went to Tosca with our lovely friends and had a splendid time. The opera was beautiful, all the singing was adequate. Eva Urbanov has a pretty voice. It was odd seeing the same production again with different singers, but I liked it, everything was nicely familiar. The second act was especially good, the music is best in that act. For some reason I find the overtures in Tosca to be strange, I don't know what it is.

Quite a few of the audience were dressed in costume, which was fun. I went dressed in an Egyptian belly dance costume that I don't dance in as I do a different style of belly dance. It consists of a forest green velvet top and a matching skirt that is half velvet and half chiffon in a lighter shade. There are silvery beads and sequins here and there as trim. It is a very silly outfit.