Review: Tosca (Canadian Opera Company)

The Canadian Opera Company brings the Puccini classic Tosca back to the Toronto stage

It is easy to understand why Tosca by Giacommo Puccini is one of the most beloved and exciting operas in the cannon. The cast and orchestra in the Canadian Opera Company’s 2017 remount of their 2012 production of Tosca clearly immersed themselves in this larger-than-life melodrama. The overture begins with the villain Scarpia’s darkly intense leitmotif. From the first dense cord, the orchestra drew us into the ruthless and desperate world of Rome during the Napoleonic wars and kept us engrossed in the downward spiral until the story’s bitter conclusion. 

One notable aspect of the story line is that it features an operatic death-scene hat trick. Murder, execution, and suicide all rolled into three fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat acts. Renowned singer Floria Tosca risks everything to save her lover the painter Cavaradossi from the clutches of the conniving, merciless chief of police Scarpia. In spite of the lovers intense ethical sacrifices, Scarpia triumphs from the grave. Amidst all the action, the story explores timeless themes regarding the entwinement of church and state, and the murky line between piety and morality.

The sets and costumes for this production are lavish and elegant, without being overblown or forced. Each act takes place in a different setting, however there are no significant scene changes during acts. This allowed each set to encapsulate the act’s mood like a scene in a snow globe. The chapel captured the sacredness and reverence of eternal love. The opulent furniture and knick-knacks in Scarpia’s chamber embodied his insatiable greed and malice hiding behind a veneer of propriety. The wretched, Spartan jail cell was a stark representation of isolation, despair, and the collapse of human compassion.

The seamless merging of action and philosophy is not the only reason why this opera is such a timeless favourite. Puccini’s music never fails to send me into transports of ecstasy and he outdoes himself in Tosca. This particular work features some of the most breathtaking singing you will ever hear on the operatic stage.

Marcelo Puente in his COC debut as romantic idealist Cavaradossi would have made me literally swoon had I not been so riveted by the action. Puente has a timbre that is full bodied and sweet like fine Shiraz, and a vibrato like the fluttering wings of a wounded bird. He put a painful lump in my throat during the first notes of a tour de force performance of “Recondita Armonia” in Act I, and left it there until the final notes of “E Lucevan le Stelle” in Act III.

COC regular Adrienne Pieczonka who sang the title role in the 2012 production was equally magnificent this time around. Her technique is incredulously flawless, but the listener never feels like they are hearing a “technical” performance. Every note, gesture, and facial expression was steeped in a consummate understanding of this strong proto-feminist heroine. The iconic aria “Visi d’arte” is a huge part of what the audience is there to hear. Pieczonka’s voice soared and bled with pain and passion throughout the sweeping range of this piece, causing the audience to erupt in unbridled applause when the final note evaporated.

Markus Marquardt, also in his COC debut, demonstrated himself to be a talented singer and an able performer, but somehow left me wanting in the role of the villain Scarpia. When Mark Delevan made his first entrance in the role in the 2012 production, it was as though the agonizingly disturbing love child of Javert, Cruella de Vil and Lord Voldemort had taken the stage. Marquardt’s Scarpia was too casual to truly hate, and too understated to suit Puccini’s towering and menacing score for this role. The story needs a compelling antagonist to really fly, so an insufficiently evil Scarpia was disappointing. Joel Sorenson in his role as henchman Spoletta was the more convincing bad guy in my opinion.

This was the first time I have seen a woman conducting at the COC. I was heartily impressed by the orchestra’s interpretation of this intensely passionate work under Keri-Lynn Wilson’s direction.

Tosca remains one of my favourite operas, and worth seeing on stage anytime. It is the stuff that grand opera is made of. Singing that sends shivers down your spine, a score that sweeps through the body like a tidal wave, and a story that strikes a chord with the soul in any time or place.

Details:

  • Tosca is playing until May 20, 2017 at Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen Street West)
  • Show times are 7:30 PM on May 6, 9, 11, 12, 17, 18, & 19, with additional matinees at 2:00 PM on May 7 & 14, and 4:30 PM on May 20.
  • Ticket prices range from $45 – $365. Patrons under 30 can purchase tickets for $22 or $35 here.
  • Tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416-363-8231 (long distance 1-800-250-4653).

Photo of Adrienne Pieczonka and Markus Marquardt by Michael Cooper