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Tosca at Opera Carolina

October 15, 2012

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    October 15, 2012
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    Opera Carolina News

Tosca at Opera Carolina

Tosca, lyric opera in three acts, music by Giacomo Puccini, libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa after Sardou's play La Tosca, premiered at the Teatro Costanzi, Rome, on January 14, 1900.

Opera Carolina, Blumenthal Performing Arts Center (Belk Theater), Charlotte, NC, on October 13, 18, and 21, 2012.

Click [here] for the full announcement and tickets. Also please consult our Tosca section [here], with many interesting articles analyzing the opera in-depth, including musical structure, trivia, discography, and interviews with Maestro Meena and the three principals.


Maestro James Meena conducts the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra and the Opera Carolina Chorus.

Stage Director - Jay Lesenger
Set Design - Donald Oenslager and Franco Colavecchia
Lighting - Michael Baumgarten
Costumes - AT Jones


Floria Tosca - Jill Gardner
Scarpia - Todd Thomas
Mario Cavaradossi - Raúl Melo
Angelotti / Jailer - Dan Boye
Sacristan - Donald Hartmann
Spoleta - Noah Rice
Sciarone - Darris JacksonShepherd - Margaret Taylor

Opera Carolina again and as usual has delivered a world-class production to the Charlotte public, and was rewarded with a full house for the opening night. It was overall a very satisfactory Tosca. This company uses creative solutions to dribble the economic crisis. For this show, they purchased a physical production designed by Zach Brown for the New York City Opera, and used it as the basis for their set design, refurbishing it and repainting it. The resulting sets were very handsome and ultra-realistic. The beauty of these sets isn't entirely rendered by the three production pictures we are showing below, one for each act, because some visually appealing elements did not get into the pictures - such as an altar on the right side of the church interior, several details of Scarpia's quarters at Palazio Farnese, and one of the angel statues of Castel Sant'Angelo.

Opera Carolina is aiming at producing all Puccini operas by 2016. Last season's visually striking Madama Butterfly collected some complaints from the local audience, with patrons deeming the sets too modern (well, I personally loved them). Anyway, this time Maestro Meena made an effort to attend to the tastes of his audience (which is always a smart thing to do), and indeed came up with a very traditional Tosca, set comme il faut in early 19th century Rome. So, those who crave some novelty will appreciate less the current show, but there is something to be said for a very realistic and tradional Tosca, especially when the sets, like these, are tasteful and beautiful. The very ellaborate costumes (complete with Vatican Guard uniforms during the Te Deum), wigs, and make-up were equally good, and some lighting solutions (such as the reddish shadows coming from the torture room) added to the effect, making of the visual side of this Tosca a pleasant one.

In the matter of stage direction, there was efficient blocking and skilfull use of the available stage space. A particularly good idea was that of presenting the Te Deum processional behind the iron gates that divide the church scene in two stage areas. The movements on stage by Tosca and Scarpia in act two were very well scripted, and the overall good acting also indicates the hand of a competent stage director, in the person of Jay Lesenger.

Staying with the acting a little longer, one must notice that this show had some very strong performers, in a spirited Jill Gardner, a scary Todd Thomas, a funny Donald Hartmann, and a creepy Noah Rice. Raúl Melo however did show some stock gesturing.

Regarding the musical values, once more it was demonstrated that Opera Carolina's biggest assett is Maestro James Meena. His pace always matches my expectations - never too slow, never too fast. His volume is very gentle on the singers when restrain is needed, and very energetic when that is what is called for. Delicacy was appropriately presented in the opening moments of act three - the awakening of Rome with the shepherd boy's song - while the dramatic and powerful sounds of act two were equally there. The Te Deum was thrilling, with Maestro Meena extracting very beautiful play from his forces. We hope that Mr. Meena will remain at the helm of Opera Carolina for the several years to come. The company wouldn'd be the same without him.

Singing-wise, we got two extraordinary artists in Jill Gardner and Todd Thomas. The former is a true spinto whose outbursts of anger are just as impressive as her mastery of the lyric moments. Her Vissi d'arte was simply sublime and deserved very long applause. Her voice is capable of good color and her range navigates effortlessly both the lower and the higher notes. Projection is excellent, and she cuts through the orchestra easily, being heard loud and clear throughout the very large Belk Theater. She acts with her voice, something that is regretably becoming rarer these days. Ms. Gardner also looks the part, in the fact that she is a very attractive lady.

Mr. Thomas by the way also has the physique du rôle, in the sense that he possesses that look we came to expect from Scarpia after Titto Gobbi imortalized it in his performance alongside Maria Callas preserved on video: Mr. Thomas physically resembles Titto Gobbi! His baritone voice is a good match for Ms. Gardner's singing talent, and is flawlessly delivered. I was mesmerized in act two, and Mr. Thomas was good enough to foster that sense of loss coming from the fact that Scarpia's death robs us of his presence in act three. Anytime this feeling becomes really acute, we know that we got a good Scarpia.

Unfortunately Mr. Melo didn't seem to be having a very good night. While there were no vocal failures and he produced all the right notes, I was having trouble hearing him above the orchestra, and the fact that he was in most of his scenes alongside two very powerful singers - Jill Gardner and Donald Hartmann who can bring the house down with their sheer volume - was not favorable to showcasing his more delicate instrument. Well, let's put it this way: he didn't sink the sheep, but didn't float it either, being the less exciting one in the trio of principals. He did improve during the show, and had a very decent third act.

The comprimario roles were mostly adequate, with kudos to Donald Hartmann who did very well as the sacristan, and Margaret Tyler who rendered beautifully the shepherd boy's song. I was less impressed with the choral singing.

In summary, the musical side was a bit uneven with the chorus and one of the three principals being the weakest links, while the conductor and the other two principals were truly excellent. Visuals were very pleasant particularly to those who enjoy traditionalist productions. Stage direction was good. Overall, a recommended show, with potential for highly recommended status in case of a better night for the tenor in the remaining two performances of the run.

By Opera Lively To read the original article, click here.