Although Tosca premiered in 1900, the plot elements would not be out of place in a show on HBO. It has it all: lust, jealousy, murder, torture, betrayal, suicide. Paired with Giacomo Puccini’s gorgeous music, it is no surprise that Tosca has remained one of the most popular operas.
The action starts when Angelotti, a former consul turned political prisoner (strongly sung by bass-baritone Ryan Kuster), escapes with the help of his sister and hides in a church. There he encounters an ally, painter Mario Cavaradossi (Chilean tenor Giancarlo Monsalve). Cavaradossi is painting a portrait of Mary Magdalene, and admits modeling his work on the features of a beautiful blonde stranger who prays at the church. Nevertheless, he thinks only of his true love, the temperamental diva Floria Tosca (soprano Emily Magee).
Tosca, however, notices the resemblance in the portrait and grows jealous. Initially, Cavaradossi placates her, but then the sinister chief of the secret police, Baron Scarpia (impressive bass Raymond Aceto), arrives to hunt down Angelotti. Scarpia burns to seduce Tosca, so he purposefully incites her jealousy, and she falls for the ploy; Cavaradossi is implicated in a scheme and arrested and tortured.
Tosca is tricked into visiting Scarpia’s apartment and is manipulated as she hears her lover’s screams. Scarpia wants her, and she wants Cavaradossi’s life to be spared. She is visibly repulsed and filled with hatred for him, but Tosca’s discomfort fuels Scarpia’s attraction. She finally relents, and then sings a beautiful “Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore,” before seeking her own revenge. Scarpia is one of the most odious characters in all of opera, so his undoing has emotional satisfaction. Still, Act 2 sees its share of overacting from Magee and Aceto in their lead roles, and the set looks tired and overused. Marie Barrett’s lighting design does nothing to improve the situation.) Nevertheless, the strong female chorus (off scene, and led by chorus master Alexander Rom) shines.
In other places, the singing is a mixed bag. Monsalve’s delivery of the famed aria “Recondita armonia” sounded weak at moments, but he may have been overpowered by the loud orchestra. He is excellent, however, on “E lucevan le stele.” Campbell S. Collins III is clear-voiced but tentative on the shepherd boy’s song.
By Act 3, the pacing feels languorous, even as the brass section excels, but the strings solos were marred by intonation problems. Even skilled conductor Emmanuel Villaume seemed incapable of preventing them.
Director Ellen Douglas Schlaefer was likely challenged with an aging set of old production, which no doubt suffered from all the attention being given to Great Scott, but she did well with what she had. If you love classic Italian opera, Tosca is worthwhile, despite its shortcomings.
— Alicia Chang
Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. Through Nov. 22. DallasOpera.org.