A Tremendous 2006 Season Opener: Tosca by the Cincinnati Opera

I left Music Hall Friday night filled with glee and excitement. Evan Mirageas’s debut production was positively spectacular. Puccini performed to perfection.

Giordano Bellincampi accentuated the sumptuous romance and drama embedded in the score and the orchestra supported the sublime vocalists. In my past four years attending the Cincinnati Opera, I have never heard such vocal fireworks as I heard last night. After attending many memorable Met performances, I’ve never been nearly as impressed with Cincinnati’s offerings. However, Cincinnati’s 2006 Tosca now holds a place among my favorite performances.

The front row center seating was also memorable! The set design by Jean Pierre-Ponelle was palatial and opulent, full of Catholic pageantry culminating in the visually stimulating Te Deum finale in Act I. The large chorus was filled with old students of mine and it was a pleasure to pick out their faces in their costumed regalia and see them singing in such a star-studded production.

The casting was brilliant. It is a rare thing to see such convincing acting on the stage today. Acting that doesn’t appear staged and rehearsed. The type of acting that comes from deep emotional connection with the character and true craft. Singing actors of the Callas tradition are indeed uncommon. However, Aprile Millo as Floria Tosca brought such exceptional conviction to her role. Millo’s singing was stupendous, a warm robust instrument that conjures memories of Renata Tebaldi in her prime. In the end, her age (nor size) did not matter at all.

I was so spellbound in her performance, that I could focus only on the dramatic intentions of Tosca and the depth of her emotions. I only hope Millo’s performances remind American audiences of the great singing actor tradition of the past, that supersede today’s preoccupations with glamour and slimness that have prompted the utter madness of the Anna Netrebko craze. I’ve heard many a “Vissi d’arte,” but few performances have moved me so deeply that I was on the verge of tears.

A bright shining star emerged with tenor Antonio Palombi’s performance as Cavaradossi. His technique was glorious and his transitions from the hounded lover, to melodramatic romantic, to passionate revolutionary were remarkable. “E lucevan le stelle” in Act III was nothing short of heartbreaking. I hope to see more of him on the American stage. He is a glorious singer and performer. Mark Delavan performed a bastardly Scarpia.

The use of smacking his leather switch against his knee-high boots in the first act had S&M undertones, which worked in Delavan’s favor. His voice, still large and rich since I’d heard him as Scarpia six years ago at NYCO, needed a little more punch in the Te Deum, a difficult feat for any baritone. However, his performance of the evil police chief was extremely compelling. The roles of Angelotti (Wayne Tigges) and Sacristan (Thomas Hammons) were also a delight.

I look forward to the rest of the season. I will be going to Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera (CCM’s Ken Shaw is singing!) and Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann, both entertaining favorites featuring coloratura Sarah Coburn.

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