Giacomo Puccini’s 112-tear-old Tosca is one of the world’s most popular operas, so any production automatically gets a head start. But the Canadian Opera Company’s Saturday-afternoon premiere of a revival of its traditional production directed by Paul Curran is extraordinary.
Seeing Kevin Knight’s handsome, conventional Regency-period costumes and sets and Curran’s unfussy staging puts the focus firmly on the music and the singing — and it’s here where this production lays down all four aces in one hand.
The ace of hearts is Toronto-based soprano Adrianne Pieczonka, who captures the full power and pathos of Floria Tosca, a temperamental opera diva who is forced into murder in order to protect her loved one. Pieczonka is in her vocal and dramatic prime, providing the right emotional weight, phrasing and pacing to every note she has to sing.
We are so lucky to have her with us in Toronto.
The ace of spades is the evil Baron Scarpia, portrayed and sung with gusto by American baritone Mark Delavan, in his COC début.
The ace of clubs belongs to a strong cast and chorus. Uraguayan tenor Carlo Ventre (also making his COC début) is, to my taste, the weakest link. He has one of those steel-belted voices and stand-and-deliver demeanours that doesn’t quite mesh with a production that is otherwise so finely nuanced.
The ace of diamonds is visiting conductor, Italian Paolo Carignani, also new to Toronto. The only time you really notice an opera conductor is when things don’t go so well. But, in this case, Carignani called attention to himself for the brilliance of his interpretation.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of options available in a Puccini opera score to speed up and slow down, to emphasize and to gloss over. Carignani caressed gorgeous contours, sharp contrasts, delicate balance and nearly perfect synchonicity with the singers.
This is the most evocative interpretation of the score I have ever heard. Period. And it made the singers sound all the better, while enhancing our emotional responses to the music and unfolding drama.
Even if you’ve been thinking, oh, not another Tosca or oh, not another traditional production, give this one a try. It’s not a gamble; it’s a guaranteed treat. And those don’t happen as often as we’d like to think in the opera world.
Note that there are several cast changes during the 14-performance run, which continues to Feb. 25. For details, click here.
CBC Radio 2 is recording this production for future broadcast on Saturday Afternoon at the Opera.