Community review by Arthur Freeman
Pacific Opera Project’s new production of Puccini’s Tosca, running through Sept 28 at St. James’ Church in Pasadena, is billed as “a moving production”, which is meant both literally and in terms of emotional impact. The production’s most unusual element involves the audience moving from location to location as the story unfolds, putting the church’s multiple spaces to full use:
The first act takes place in the main sanctuary. Then both audience and players move to the attached Porticos Theater for the second, and the outdoor courtyard for the third. The idea proves genial and necessary for the desired effect. While the church’s dimensions set the scene for Act I nicely, serving as the apse of Sant’Andrea della valle, a real basilica in Rome, the company could not have attained the same effect of Scarpia’s (Act II) capacious and lavish private rooms with ready-at-hand attached torture chamber, and the final scenes (Act III) under the stars, set on the ramparts of Castel Sant’Angelo, in the same modest venue of St. James’ sanctuary.
On entering the venue on opening night, a large, enthusiastic crowd could be seen milling about, finding their places and settling down for this much anticipated performance. Word had gotten out that this was to be a very special treatment of this most staple of operas. With its storied past, legendary singers and the countless recordings which have swelled the work’s renown, Tosca enjoys the kind of legacy which invites, of course, a world of invidious comparisons by the cognoscenti. But all suspicions and comparisons simply evaporated after hearing the sonorous opening intonation of the orchestra, and the music from Act I to the final curtain, under the judicious, clean and balanced direction of conductor Stephen Karr. The show proceeded to fulfill the opera’s flights of imagination – the jealous passions of Tosca, the heroic endurance of Cavaradossi, and the dissolute cravings of Scarpia.
Some very fine singing and interpretation were in evidence. Daria Somers, as Tosca, the celebrated singer, wears the diva’s tiara admirably. Her youthful approach combines with full tones and a satisfying range of passion and pathos that breathe life and dimension into her portrayal. Brian Cheney, as the painter Mario Cavaradossi, interpreted the role exactingly with his burnished tenor and clear understanding of the chiaroscuro of the role. From the onset, the chemistry between Tosca and Mario sizzled. Patrick Blackwell, as Baron Scarpia, chief of secret police, makes his demands known with a rich and stentorian voice that communicates the fearsome authoritarian.
The difficult comprimario roles and the full chorus and ensemble were sung well and performed with focus, vitality and the presence needed to serve the thrust of the action – an operatic convergence. Particularly notable are the character and charm of the Sacristan (E. Scott Levin) and the dead-on, spitfire delivery of Spoletta, Scarpia’s chief spy (Robert Norman).
It is a privilege to have been present at this performance. This is a must-see.
This review concerns the Sept. 19 peformance of Pacific Opera Project’s Tosca, A Moving Production. Conductor: Stephen Karr; Director and Set Designer: Josh Shaw; Costume Designer: Maggie Green; Lighting Designer: Ryan Shull.