Tosca: Dark Drama Done Right

Brianna McFarlane

If I had to pick only one reason why I enjoy going to watch live opera it would have to be for the chills. Opera is one of the only dramatic forms in which I gauge how much I like a show vis a vis the number of times I get goose-bumps. This is not to say that opera is unique in its ability to affect its audience in such a physical manner, but that to an uninitiated practitioner of the craft, goose-bumps are a good indication of the skill of the composer(s), the orchestra, and the vocalists themselves.

David Pomeroy as Cavaradossi; Michele Capalbo as Tosca. Photo by Tim Matheson

(Photo by Tim Matheson)

          When I attended Opera Lyra’s season opener Tosca I was most looking forward to seeing one of Giacomo’s most famed melodramas having already seen OL’s production of Madama Butterfly last season. While I was not overly affected by the tragedy of Cio Cio San, the number of times the my being was engulfed in shivers by this rendition of Tosca was enough to keep me captivated through its entire three hour and ten minute run time. This is impressive also considering the various difficulties this production faced right up until opening night and yet not even the stumble of the leading lady during one of her final moments could make it any less so.

Tosca, set in Rome in the 1800s, is a melodrama that turns on the tension between the Kingdom of Naples’ control of Rome and the threat of Napoleon’s invasion of Italy. Inspired by French playwright Victorien Sardou’s La Tosca (written for popular actress of the time Sarah Bernhardt), Puccini’s adaptation depicts the story of famed opera singer Floria Tosca caught between the old Italian order as embodied by her lover Cavaradossi who is an ally to the aristocracy; and the new order brought in by Baron Scarpia, chief of the secret police who greatly covets Tosca for himself. Though it contains depictions of torture, murder and suicide, the dramatic forice of Tosca and its characters continue to fascinate both performers and audiences and it remains one of the most frequently performed operas even today. With a more than able cast and an effective design, Opera Lyra has a very strong production on their hands.

The set, designed by David Gano, is dark, beautiful, and gothic adding even more drama to the piece. I appreciated the use of scale in that the walls and doors seemed to be very large and daunting as if to suggest the smallness and insignificance of these characters in the grand scheme of things. The costumes, provided by Malabar, are sumptuous and appropriate to both time and geography being portrayed and lighting designer, Kevin Lamotte, by way of playing with shadows is able to add even more texture to the scenery and the universe of this production. These adequate designs, however, are given life by the show’s strong ensemble.

Tosca -leaving body on floor


(Photo by Tim Matheson)

          David Pomeroy, who I did not love in OL’s Carmen, shines bright here as painter Mario Cavaradossi, with a voice that transitions easily from assertive and dominant to tender and romantic creating some nice depth within his character. Todd Thomas’ portrayal of the villainous Baron Scarpia is also effectively nuanced and his deep baritone reveals this character’s facets ranging from brutal pharisee to manipulative sadist. Michele Capalbo in the title role proves she’s a strong leading lady whose robust vocals and sense of control deliver the dramatic and emotional punch needed for Tosca’s most well-known arias. Finally, credit must be given to the entire cast and crew when disaster struck mere moments before the curtain rose.

When performer James McLennan, cast as Spoletta, suffered a severe allergic reaction and was immediately rushed to the hospital, Principal Repetiteur Judith Ginsburg stepped in and walked through the part (with the help of cast members telling her what to do in between scenes) while chorus member Chris Oliveria sang the role from the wings. This by no means detracted from the performance and only serves to demonstrate one of the many aspects of that which we call the magic of live theatre. McLennan is reported to return for the rest of the run and I would bet that this production, like the little engine that could, will only gain momentum.

Overall, this is a strong opening number for Opera Lyra’s 30th anniversary season. The design team and the cast, under the direction of Stage Director Guy Montavon and Music Director Pinchas Zukerman, really exact all of the drama and tensions found within Puccini’s opera and they certainly fill the piece with life. I was always taught to be aware of one’s own involuntary reactions as an audience member, which is why things like hand clenching, the quickening of breath, and goose-bumps are all indicators as to how a performance affects you on a physical level even if you are not an expert in that particular field. Tosca is a successful production because the engagement and investment, for me, comes from its ability to make the skin prickle and to continually inspire chills.

Tosca by Giacomo Puccini

Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa

Giles Tomkins……Angelotti/Jailer/Roman Consul

Thomas Hammons……Sacristan

David Pomeroy……Mario Cavaradossi

Michele Capalbo……Floria Tosca

Todd Thomas……Baron Scarpia

James McLennan……Spoletta

Dion Mazerolle……Sciarrone

Conductor: Tyrone Paterson

Stage Director: Guy Montavon

Lighting Designer: Kevin Lamotte

Music Director: Pinchas Zuckerman