Giacomo Puccini first saw La Tosca in Milan with Sarah Bernhardt in the lead role. He turned it into an opera a dozen years later. In the ensuing 108 years Tosca has become one of the top ten operas performed in America. The LA Opera production provides a lush confirmation of its longevity.
Adrianne Pieczonka sings the title role for most performances, and she emotes with vigor. Tosca needs to play a sort of falcon, as a bird of prey doing the dirty work of the evil police chief Scarpia (the robust Juan Pons). Tosca’s affection lies with the painter Mario Cavaradossi, played by Neil Shicoff. The painter harbors some revolutionary politics, which puts him at odds with the authorities. Shicoff does a fine job expressing his love for Tosca early, and in his final moments before execution (“never have I loved life so much”).
The drama opens in a Roman cathedral, where Cavaradossi has been painting Mary Magdalene. Tosca mistakenly believes the beautiful woman in the painting is the painter’s other lover, and urges him to confirm his love by making the painting look more like Tosca. The smoky, waxy candles of the cathedral and the forced perspective of the narthex are accentuated by the LA Opera’s raked stage. A large mass of parishoners is gathered for an impressive choral closing of the first act.
Scarpia brings all his evil to bear in the second act, when he promises to spare the life of the painter in exchange for Tosca’s sexual favors. Scarpia’s angular blood red office chamber heightens the tension, as does the clever use of doors, M.L. Geiger’s cross lighting and shadows. Scarpia mingles his taste for wine and women, and Tosca causes blood to flow before the act ends.
The third act, which takes place in prison. The plot invariably brings together the two lovers, both of whom must die tragically in operatic fashion.
Sir Richard Armstrong provides a steady hand as conductor (Placido Domingo will handle the baton work for three performances before the production closes on June 21).
For more information, visit www.laopera.com/productions/0708/tosca/