Tosca at WNO
WNO pulled out some big guns for its season opener Saturday (from the looks of it, perhaps the most significant gunshow on offer this season) for a satisfying if not memorable Tosca.
Pat Racette brings considerable assets to her Tosca, though I don't know if she really breaks away from the pack. The voice is certainly a fine fit, and everything seems comfortable, but Vissi D'Arte, for instance, never grabs you the way it did last season with Radvanovsky. Now, its tough competing with a special quality like SondRad, but hey--the game is just more intense when you're trying for something beyond a reliable workaday Tosca. But still--great performance, great voice, and hopefully she will continue to make this attention to WNO a habit.
Ditto for Alan Held's Scarpia. It needs no repeating that Held is a great actor endowed with a voice that is always a pleasure to hear. I don't think I ever hit publish on the review, but let me just add for the record his Met Wozzecks last Spring were a "delight". There are some intriguing aspects to his Scarpia--here's the police chief as robust and handsome, an true perverted aesthete rather than just a lech. His psychological torture of Tosca becomes more acute because we can better believe her resistance to seeing him as a monster, often a foregone conclusion with obviously suspicious characters. This also allows the big "reveal" about what he wants from her to be a more powerful break with the rest of the scene. That said, Held and the production would have to go farther to make this interpretation really pop--instead we we mostly got standard issue Scarpia business but without the full complement of nastiness.
Catapulting a voice with the heft of Frank Poretta's up into Cavaradossi's heights is not an easy thing, but he managed it with a pleasing dexterity that surprised again and again throughout the evening. Just when one was getting comfortable, "E Lucevan le Stella" included a kind of disturbing crack, but he recovered well. Also, some might accuse him of being bit of a ham acting wise, but I'm a sucker for when people do gestures that underline the notes they want you to pay attention to, so we're cool.
As for Placido Domingo's conducting...just...damn. I mean, at least its a useful reminder for folks who only attend professional opera that conducting this stuff is really hard. If the worst of it had just been relentlessly draggy, four-square tempi it would have been *only* dull. But he seems not to have mastered the fundamental skill of anticipating the singers in close-quarters aria work, which, if distracting to the audience, must have been brutal for the singers. What is this conducting racket he has going? Is it like a consolation prize to companies when he can't afford to use a limited vocal appearance on them? Please, dude. I just want to have positive, uncomplicated feelings about you. Stop these shenanigans.
If the old Zefferelli production is the Cadillac of traditional Toscas, this Dallas Opera production is more like a Ford Focus. Yes, everything has four walls and there is a lot of fake stone of various sorts, but its not actually an attractive set. Also, let me throw out a pet peeve with "traditional sets" like this: if you are going to depict a "real" interior, you can't just disregard the basic architectural elements of that interior and think the set dressing will allow it to pass. Case in point--the Act I church has most of the action taking place at ground level, and a balcony overhead which, through some scrim cleverness, is revealed as the altar area for the Te Deum sequence. Yeah, I see how that's a convenient way to do this scene, but is there a church in all of Italy that has the altar suspended on a balcony thing above the main sanctuary area? Little quibbles maybe, but this sort of thing just invalidates the whole appeal of a traditional set, which should allow the audience to lose themselves in a credible facsimile of a real space.