Tosca

By Giacomo Puccinitosca-title

Production by Franco Zeffirelli

At Lyric Opera

http://www.lyricopera.org

Tosca plunges deep into the heart

There seem to be two clear camps in classical music circles: symphonic and operatic—myself generally being in the former.  Each time I see a Lyric Opera production, however, I find myself more and more excited by opera; it seems like it takes a certain amount of practice watching opera before the experience comes together.

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This year’s Lyric Opera season opened this week with Puccini’s Tosca—a must-see for a budding opera lover.  Currently, it is the eighth most-performed opera in North America; it has everything an tragedy should have—love, death, and power—and yet avoids many of the awful clichés people often associate with opera.

If you have never seen Tosca, this is a good production to see; this is the classic, time-tested production from the 1960s.  The sets hardly looked their age.  Their grandiosity matched the voices in size and scope, creating an impression of grandeur and permanence.  This contrasts nicely with the intensely personal and temporal struggles inherent in the plot.

Of the singers, I was most consistently impressed by Vladimir Galouzine as Cavaradossi.  Though a tenor, his voice can roar or soar, shaded subtly by warm, rich earth tones.  Deborah Voigt as Tosca continues to be a solid performer both vocally and dramatically.

As the infamous Scarpia was James Morris, but, in a real-life moment of drama, Mr. Morris had to excuse himself after the first act, citing a cold.  The audience was generally very forgiving and showered praise on his replacement (whose name is impossible to locate).  There were certainly a few opera-goers who expressed displeasure at this turn of events, but I was deeply impressed by the last-minute substitution.  The replacement exuded more evil—more sleaze—but his voice lacked a touch of the booming resonance Mr. Morris displayed in the first act.

Before seeing the opera, I watched a handful of its famous arias on Youtube and read the plot synopses online.  For this opera, however, I would actually recommend not reading the entire synopsis; the plot is easy enough to follow, and I think it would be a better experience to watch the climactic events unfold as they happen.

This opera has risen to the top of the opera world for good reasons.  The plot is tragic but not overly complicated, which allows for more musical exploration of each scene’s emotional potential.  That being said, I noticed several places where the music did not correspond—in my opinion—to the emotion on stage.  No fault of the performers, this was a conflict between Puccini’s interpretation of the action and my own.

I recommend this opera for anyone who has been flirting with opera but has not yet fallen head-over-heels.  Like all opera, you have to suspend a certain amount of disbelief, but Tosca is certainly more realistic, more believable, than most.  It requires a certain amount of imagination in order to be able to empathize with the characters and to be able to fuse together the music with the action on stage.  The work that it requires is worth the effort.

If you miss Tosca this month, it will be back in January.  This may, however, be your last chance to see it in Chicago for a while, since this is the third production at the Lyric since 2001.  At what point do we get enough Tosca?  For some, I’m sure, never.

Highly Recommended

Reviewed by Evan Kuchar

At the Lyric Opera Chicago, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago, IL, 312.332.2244 ext. 5600, tickets $33 – $207, Saturday October 3, 2009 7:30 PM , Wednesday October 7, 2009 2:00 PM, Saturday October 10, 2009 7:30 P M, Tuesday October 13, 2009 7:30 PM, Sunday January 10, 2010 2:00 PM , Friday January 15, 2010 7:30 PM,  Tuesday January 19, 2010 7:30 PM, Friday January 22, 2010 2:00 PM, Monday January 25, 2010 7:30 PM, Friday January 29, 2010, running time is 2 hours, 50 minutes in Italian with English subtitles.