Tuesday, September 13, 2011

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.


Lisa Hirsch said...

The conducting of the World's Greatest Living Tenor has ruined a performance or two that I've attended as well. He really has no clue.

Kathy said...

Sounds to me like this performance by Alan Held may be somewhat similar to his performance in the Cardillac dvd, which I thought was superb!