Review byBrian Hay
Puccini’s opera, TOSCA, which takes place in Rome during Napoleon’s invasion of Italy, has all the good stuff: – love, jealousy, bribery, murder & suicide. Designer Kevin Knight’s sets are fixed units that allow all the movement to come from the performers. The first has cathedral walls ringing the perimeter with smaller panels near the forefront on either side. The panel farthest from where the characters enter is where ‘Cavaradossi’ is creating a portrait of the ‘Madonna’. The other (which has to be passed first) is an altar for worship. The second has lustrous paneling around three windowed doors that divide the back wall. Actual furniture was used for the props. The third has a wall in the middle, a walkway above and bars framing either side. The flooring of black and white diamonds remains a constant.
Lighting Designer David Martin Jacques used a combination of warm and cool hues to create a shadowy atmosphere while subtly brighter spotlights accentuated movements. Action off the stage was hinted at with fiery tones that gave it a sense of immediacy.
External lighting casting shadows from the bars along the rear wall was particularly affective in creating a dungeon like atmosphere. The wardrobe (also by Kevin Knight) was elegant and predominately dark. The single exception was the lighter angelic shades worn by ‘Tosca’ through the first two acts.
She was portrayed as anything but angelic. Julie Makerov developed the character in stages. Initially she projected the superficial poise of a woman barely able to control her innermost drama queen. As the production progressed she injected intelligence and fierce loyalty. Her timing and use of body language was superb. Brandon Jovanovich‘s portrayal of ‘Cavaradossi’ as a grounded individual balanced her mercurial nature nicely. His amusement with her jealousy and desire to aid ‘Angelotti’ while placating her was always evident. His singing coupled power with sensitivity and intelligence. Mark Delavan did a brilliant job of portraying ‘Scarpia’ as lustful, manipulative and gleefully sadistic. The chemistry he and Makerov had was fabulous. When they reached their climatic moment it was impossible notto empathize emotions.
Smaller details were handled well. The comic touches Peter Strummer gave to ‘The Sacristan’ by presenting his secular duties as an afterthought while preaching them ardently provided nice touches. The interaction between Christian Van Horn (‘Angelotti’) and Jovanovich was excellent. John Kriter imbued the part of ‘Spoletta’ with a sense of brooding evil. Stage Manager Jenifer had the cues set up perfectly, insuring the action flowed smoothly. Chorus Master Sandra Horst kept the choir singing at levels that made their presence strong without intruding on the action in the foreground.
There were plenty of highlights. Makerov drew the famous aria ‘Vissi D’arte’ into herself completely by remaining completely still while her voice soared through the hall. The instrumental prelude that opened the third act created a phenomenal sense of foreboding. The final scene between ‘Tosca’ and ‘Cavaradossi’ roared with searing emotions. Makerov’s horror in discovering ‘Scarpia’s’ final deception was stunning. Through all of it conductor Paolo Carignani kept the music moving from waves of flowing lyricism to passages of monumental weight.
Director Paul Curran’s vision of the story kept it moving briskly. Each of the acts seemed much shorter than they actually were. The dark atmosphere maintained the feeling that the story is a tragedy, the characters developed thoroughly. For all of its show-stopping solo numbers this production never loses its sense of being an ensemble piece. It’s musical theatre (which, for those who are leery, is what opera really is) at its finest. ‘TOSCA’ is at Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre until Feb. 25th