Photographer: Matthew Staver
Tosca at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House –where do I begin? I rather feel like the fan watching a game that is practically hopeless only to see my team score in the final seconds and win! But the score was not just any score; it was one of those amazing feats that will be played over and over again on the late night sports recap. I don’t mean to suggest that OperaColorado is facing certain defeat, or that opera in Colorado is on the decline. But classical arts are suffering in the current economic climate. Colorado Symphony musicians, who also play for OperaColorado, is just one of many orchestras that took a voluntary pay cut to keep the books balanced.
Last night OperaColorado, against the odds of current economic trends, scored not only a game winner but capped off their season with a stellar production; took home the trophy, so to speak. From the opening of the curtain in Act I when the audience gasped at the beyond grand sets by Thierry Bosquet to the 5 minutes of applause for leading lady Sondra Radvanosky’s rendition of Vissi d'arte OperaColorado shows it is a championship opera company. The sets from the San Francisco production of Tosca for the re-opening of the War Memorial Opera House in 1997, literally take your breath away! Sondra’s talent filled the house and outshined her stunning red dress of the final two acts.
Putting Sondra in the role of Tosca was a huge risk, not that she is a risky talent –quite the opposite. Before her debut with OperaColorado last night she has performed at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Paris Opera Teatro all Scala, Vienna State Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and calls the Met her home. Getting her to play Tosca in Denver is rather like making your number one draft pick the Heismann Trophy winner. However, what it did for OperaColorado was step up their game and put them in the same league as the above mentioned opera houses. We may not get the world wide recognition these other opera houses have, but OperaColorado showed they can certainly provide comparable performances. The risk paid off with a definite game winning production!
Sondra’s performance was brilliantly lyrical, performing the title role of Tosca, an opera singer in Rome June 17th, 1800 with the intimate passion of a world class diva. Her voice held both the affectionate tenderness of a shy lover and the strident fear of a woman threatened with rape. One of the most endearing moments of her performance came in her opening scene with her lover Cavaradossi, when Sondra was singing with her head bowed toward her lover. The smile on her face and the affection in her voice made the scene almost embarrassing to watch as we listened in on these intimate moments of professing love. Yet, her voice carried to the back of the house. It is not just Sondra’s powerful voice but her all around ability to capture the nuances of the character that made Tosca come alive on stage. Sondra was the gleaming star for both Cavaradossi and the audience.
Tosca’s nemesis, Baron Scarpia, was performed by Greer Grimsley who’s critical acclaim in Wagnerian roles proves he has the chops to command a world class stage. Greer did it again with Scarpia. At the end of Act I, the chorus comes out to sing in celebration the Te Deum. The orchestra is pounding away with celebratory music and above this we hear Scarpia’s voice, ”Tosca, mi fai dimenticare Iddio!” (Tosca, you make me forget God!). Power is not enough for Scarpia and Greer wasn’t willing to just coast through the role with the power of his voice. Scarpia is a menace and Greer captures this perfectly in Act II. He gloats and glowers, threatens and insinuates; Scarpia is the Iago of Tosca and Greer makes the audience disgusted and angry, on the verge of storming the stage with the depths of his depravity. Greer was booed when he came out for a curtain call; his performance was just that intense.
Antonello Palombi in the role of Cavaradossi was lyrically a perfect match for Sondra’s Tosca. Their voices blended beautifully and yet retained a sense of their individual characters to breathe life into each scene. There was mention that Antonello was suffering from allergies, but it was in no way evident. His rendition of the famous E lucevan le stele in Act III was tender, passionate and heartbreaking. His acting was not quite on a par with the other leads, feeling a bit overly melodramatic at times. Yes, this is Puccini and yes, it is opera, but that doesn’t mean it has to be exaggerated, particularly when he appears in Act II after being tortured, the performance was a bit over the top.
Philip Cokorinos debuted with OperaColorado with his portrayal of Sacristan. He was funny and poignant, a nice foil for Antonello in the first act. Matthew DiBattista as Spoletta and William O’Neill as Sciarrone lent their rich voices to this amazing production. While their characters are not featured roles, they did make their presence felt on stage with every appearance and definitely were a strong addition to the cast. The only point of frustration in the cast was the voice of the Shepherd Boy. Donata Cucinotta’s voice from back stage could not be heard over the orchestra and was lost. This is unfortunate as she was delightful in The Tales of Hoffmann earlier this year.
Ron Daniels as the director returns after his successful production of Madama Butterfly last year. He deserves the standing ovation the production received on its opening night as it was beautiful, rich and certainly world class. While there were moments when the action on stage seemed at a loss as to what to do with the immense amount of non-vocal music, these moments were rare enough to not detract from the remarkable performances of the entire cast. I sincerely hope OperaColorado considers bringing Daniels back for future productions.
In an era where the arts are suffering I feel like writing a personal letter of thanks to Susan and Jeremy Shamos who are season sponsors, to Merle Chambers and Hugh Grant, Joy and Chris Dinsdale, Jilja K. Herfurth and Dr. and Mrs. William Maniatis of the Colorado Trust. These were the stars of last night’s production. These were the people who stepped up to the plate and really put one in the bleachers. No, they weren’t on stage – they were the sponsors that made the evening possible. If you know them, thank them for me. I am going to be comparing other opera productions to this Tosca for a very long time.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 7:30 pm
Friday, April 30, 2010 at 7:30 pm
Sunday, May 2, 2010 at 2:00 pm