Paul Curran’s Tosca, the finale for the COC 2016/17 season, is filled with electric and memorable performances and is anything but shabby.
Let me clue you in, in case you’re not familiar with Puccini’s Tosca, everyone dies by the end of act three. It’s a tale you’re not unfamiliar with, to be sure. It’s a tale of love and deceit, jealousy and murder. Floria Tosca is a famous, hot-blooded singer, in love with painter Mario Cavaradossi, a member of the political movement against Tosca’s would-be lover, the tyrannical police chief Scarpia.
This opera is a story of the sacred and the profane, life of the artist and their position in the state. Religion is a continuous theme which is juxtaposed with the evil things that take place on stage.
Tosca opens with five crashing chords, which we later learn is the theme of Scarpia, sung here by Markus Marquardt. He sings “Iago had a handkerchief, I have a fan:” his reference to Othello tells us immediately what he plans to do—stir up this lover’s flame—he wants her and he knows that she is jealous and impulsive. Marquardt’s vocals are good, but he didn’t come across as devilishly wicked as the role demands.
Argentinian tenor Marcelo Puente is a gorgeous Cavaradossi in both visage and a voice that rolled through the house. Puente had the audience hooked with the first of his beautiful arias, Recondita Armonia. As he’s painting this beautiful portrait of woman very unlike Tosca, he only as thoughts of his love. He compares the different types of beauty, but the way he sings about her is so sincere in its admiration and in each note, that it has you on the edge of your seat.
By the end of act three, Puente’s very poignant aria, the lyrical E Lucevan le Stelle brought the house down. With his last hour, Cavaradossi asks his jailer to pen a letter to his beloved. It’s the end of his life and all that he can think of is the love he will leave behind. His last thoughts are of Tosca. He relives their tender moments and longs for her touch. The singer’s vocal and bodily expression makes the most of the emotional content of the music.
Tosca is a premium role for sopranos and one that can make or break singers. Adrianne Pieczonka brings sheer vocal splendor and superb acting to her character—she is Tosca. Playing the character is extremely demanding vocally, as is the acting if it’s to be convincing. Tosca is impulsive and jealous and she needs to sell that to the audience, or the act can fall flat.
In her act two aria, Vissi d’arte, Tosca laments that she’s lived a faith filled life, she’s done everything she was “supposed” to do—she asks why God has forsaken her. Cavaradossi is being tortured and she is devastated. This comes out with every fibre of Pieczonka’s being. There is nothing self-conscious in this nuanced performance. You can feel her character’s rage reverberating off the stage as she stabs Scarpia and sings, “this is how Tosca kisses.”
Puente and Pieczonka command your attention every time they set foot on stage and their songs were sung with such care that it is goose bump inducing.
By the end of act three, Tosca climbs to the top of the parapet at Castel Sant’Angelo, plunging to her death. It’s such a powerful scene, one that has stuck with me over the years, from my very first viewing of the opera, including seeing the last production at the COC in 2012. It’s one of those scenes where you know what’s about to happen, but you hold your breath anyway. And this is what COC’s final production for the season is—breath-taking.
Puccini gifted us with a beautiful score for Tosca and the COC orchestra was exceptional in the pit under the skillful baton of Keri-Lynn Wilson—she brings out all the colours of the music and it was perhaps one of the best performances I’ve heard all year at the COC.
Tosca runs through May 20. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit: coc.ca