Corrections or additions?
This review by Elaine Strauss was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
July 8, 1998. All rights reserved.
The first two productions in Opera Festival of New
Jersey’s season are as different as two peas in a pod. Sure, Mozart’s
"Marriage of Figaro," the season opener, and Puccini’s
the season’s second vehicle, are similar in being dramas where
is sung, rather than spoken. But the two productions are shaped from
diametrically opposed visions of opera. While "Figaro"
itself as a uniquely flavored morsel, "Tosca" comes across
as an easily-identified type. The personae in "Figaro" are
three-dimensional characters in a complex comedy, held under control
by a tightly integrated production. The main figures in
represent abstractions, set in a melodrama that lets its characters
display their prowess in the performance of intense and impassioned
arias. Audiences may favor one or the other approach to opera,
on their taste.
Dejan Miladinovic’s "Tosca," which opened June 27 at McCarter,
is a strong musical statement, both vocally and instrumentally. In
it Elizabeth Byrne, as Tosca, uses her powerful and shapely soprano
voice to display the ramifications of jealousy; Christopher Robertson,
as Scarpia, with his authoritative baritone, depicts the callousness
of unalloyed treachery; and tenor Michael Rees Davis, as Cavaradossi,
singing with warmth and steadiness, reveals the problems that can
grow from trust and loyalty. On opening night, the audience’s
response to Byrne’s "Vissi d’arte" aria in Act II momentarily
stopped the stage action.
Both diva Tosca and her artist lover Cavaradossi appear in all three
acts of the opera and the demands on their stamina are enormous. Baron
Scarpia, the chief of police, who appears in Act I and is killed by
Tosca in Act II, appears on stage more briefly, but the challenge
of conveying evil incarnate requires an intensity that must be
demanding for a nice guy to sustain.
A lush orchestral performance, under the direction of Louis Salemno,
contributes both to the mood and the momentum of the opera from its
first captivating, ominous chord to the end of the performance. There
are places where Puccini’s orchestral score seems to presage movie
music, summarizing an entire scene sonically. Somewhat distractingly,
however, the orchestra briefly played prima donna in Act I of the
opening night performance, overwhelming the crowd on stage with the
volume of its brasses.
The supertitles are eminently readable, even from within the first
10 rows of the orchestra. The reward of monitoring the dialogue is
well worth the effort of glancing back and forth between stage and
overhead. The projected titles are summaries, rather than exact
For Scarpia they are epigrammatic as they show his intent to release
Tosca’s jealousy "to fly like a falcon," or state his view
that "There’s more to savor in conquest than in consent."
Projected images play a major part in the scenic design. In addition,
shadows bring offstage actions within the visible reach of the
as they show characters approaching, or depict action that would
be heard, but not seen. Particularly effective is the shadow
of Tosca’s singing at the queen’s reception offstage, while Scarpia
is shown at dinner on stage. The team responsible for the visual
is set designer Gordana Svilar, lighting designer F. Mitchell Dana,
and projection designer Elaine J. McCarthy. Unfortunately, for a
of the opening night audience, the spotlight creating the shadows
was a glaring presence.
Comic relief is provided in Act I by Steven Condy, as a rotund
crossing himself excessively, taking a puzzled peep at the painting
on which artist Cavaradossi is working, and helping himself to
from the lunch basket he has been entrusted to bring the artist. The
Sacristan is a convincing character. Contrastingly, Bradley Garvin
(Cesare Angelotti, the escaped political prisoner) limps, stumbles,
and falls in an implausible manner. To believe he could have eluded
any pursuer it is necessary to close one’s eyes and pay attention
only to his fervent singing.
Beau Palmer (as Spoletta) and Dominic Inferrera (as Sciattone) ably
portray the evil Scarpia’s evil henchmen, singing and acting with
hardened malice, and acting as surrogates for Scarpia in Act III,
when Tosca discovers that Cavaradossi’s execution was genuine, and
not the mock execution that Scarpia had promised.
Opera Festival of New Jersey opens its third work of the season on
Saturday, July 11. It is Carlisle Floyd’s "Susannah." If OFNJ
runs true to form, audiences will encounter yet a third approach to
— Elaine Strauss
91 University Place, 609-683-8000. Friday, July 10, 8 p.m. and
Saturday, July 18, 8 p.m.
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