Tosca: round two
Lyric Opera music director Andrew Davis, who had conducted the performances at the beginning of the season, left the podium to Stephen Lord. Compared to Davis’s interpretation, Lord showed less care for musical details, but his vision featured a more straightforward narrative, and provided Puccini’s music with a sense of grandiosity that better matches Zeffirelli’s visual conception than Davis’s more sober approach to the composer’s orchestral textures. Under Lord’s baton, what got lost in refinement was compensated by a more burning dramatic sense.
On the whole, I found the new vocal cast much more convincing than the previous one. Violeta Urmana as Tosca perhaps lacks Deborah Voigt’s impressive high notes, which thrilled the audience last fall. Urmana started her international singing career as a mezzo, and her vocal origin can still be perceived in her slightly stretched top register. Nonetheless, she is much more experienced than her colleague in the Italian repertoire: not only is her rendition of the words much more appropriate to the character, but her vocal portrayal of Puccini’s heroine also shows more subtleties, and a greater stylistic awareness. Since her entrance in the first act she proves how flexible her voice can be by showing off a rich gamut of colors, and a remarkable control of legato and dynamics. Voigt’s Tosca was not less authoritative in terms of vocal presence than Urmana’s, but in my opinion the latter managed to portray a more rounded character - less exuberant in the second act perhaps (although her ‘Vissi d’arte’ literally stole the show), but much more self-aware of her power of seduction. As a consequence, both the first and the third act had an emotional impact that was missing in the earlier performances, while in the second she conveyed the violence of the situation through a skillful use of the words as sonic tools rather than running after exhibitionist vocal effects.
She shared this interpretative approach with baritone Lucio Gallo (Scarpia), whose vocal presence could not compete with James Morris’s imposing authority, as seen last Fall. Gallo was a very subtle interpreter, although sometimes I found his efforts to weigh every single note of his part a bit excessive. Nevertheless, his relatively young age and look contributed to represent credibly the character’s wild lust and violence.
Marco Berti has the vocal colors and extroversion for Caravadossi, even if scenically he looks too static. He opened the first act with a secure execution of ‘Recondita armonia’, warmly received by the audience, but during the course of the performance he progressively showed moments of expressive indifference that prevented him from be fully convincing, as in the case of the famous ‘E lucevan le stelle’ in the third act. He nonetheless sounded much more appropriate in this role than Vladimir Galouzine, who sang earlier in the season. In Berti’s singing there was a spontaneity and naturalness that I couldn’t find in Galouzine and that in my opinion the role of Cavaradossi needs.
Although with this second run of performances of Tosca the Lyric again offered a production of the opera rooted in an old-fashioned conception of Puccini’s work as a sort of operatic colossal, this time around, and unlike at the beginning of the season, presented singers that are confident with Puccini’s score, and granted a general level of musical performance worthy of the name of one of the most prestigious opera houses in the United States.