Reviewed by Tony Villecco
Tri-Cities Opera last weekend presented a vocally and dramatically searing production of Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca” at The Forum in Binghamton. From the beautiful sets and lighting right down to the smallest details, TCO successfully proved that, with mature adult voices, the difference really is in the singing.
Jessica Tarnish as the diva Floria Tosca was a standout. For such a young singer, her voice has developed into a strikingly beautiful spinto soprano with a soaring top and no audible break in the other vocal registers. Not once, especially in the daunting second act, did the soprano show any vocal difficulty or appear to be straining as some other sopranos have done. This was singing in the purest sense, a lush and rounded tone combined with a clear delineation of the role.
Bruce Reed returned to TCO after a long absence and why he has not been asked back sooner proved an enigma. Once a lighter lyrical tenor of sweet quality, the voice has developed into a warm, robust and burnished sound with a thrilling top. While occasionally there was a tendency to “scoop” up to the higher notes, vocally he was secure throughtout, offering a particularly fine third-act aria and a second-act outcry of “Vittoria” that was most effective.
However, for dramatic purposes, the show belonged to baritone Guido LeBron as the villainous Scarpia. Whether snapping his whip or gazing at a small portrait of Tosca, he held the audience spellbound with his vile and overtly sexual characterization. The palpable tension as Scarpia escalated in his attempt to rape Tosca was released only when Tosca stabbed him to death. Vocally, LeBron also was adept with his stong voice ringing through the theater. Only during the strenuous music in the second act did he appear to be having some brief vocally difficulty.
Peter Sicilian has to be commended for his crafty staging. Particulary noteworthy was the Act One “Te Deum,” although it was rendered less effective due to Maestro Duane Skrabalek’s almost too slow pace with his orchestra. Thought staged brilliantly, what could have been an exciting and inspiring piece was hampered by tempi akin to a death march. Otherwise the orchestra plied out some lovely moments of Puccini’s score.
Additional directorial touches that stood out: Scarpia putting a chair in front of the torture chamber and forcing Tosca to hear Mario’s screams; Scarpia running his tongue up Tosca’s neck like a zealous lizard; Tosca falling backwards to her death instead of taking the traditional head-first leap. In this way, Sicilian had her face both her pursuers and the audience through the final moment.
The secondary roles were carried off nicely by TCO resident artists. Most noteworthy was Will Roberts’ very funny characterization of the Sacristan. Baritone Andrew Bawden made for a nervous and twitchy Angelloti with Julian Whitley as Sciarrone and Dan Ibeling as Spoletta.
TCO’s children’s chorus, prepared led by Brenda Dawe, did a fine job. The lovely period sets were designed by Robert Little with equally effective costuming by Paul Favini. Joe Beck created the atmospheric lighting.