• Tosca: The Opera in the opera house - stagings

    Here is the Opera Lively review of a staging of Tosca by the Santa Fe Opera, NM, USA:

    Tosca, opera in three acts (1900)
    Music by Giacomo Puccini
    Libretto by Giuseppe Giocosa and Luigi Illica
    Sung in Italian with English and Spanish opera titles in each seat
    This review is of the performance on July 13, 2012

    Conductor Frédéric Chaslin
    Stage Director Stephen Barlow
    Scenic and Costume Design Yannis Thavoris
    Lighting Duane Schuler

    Cast in order of vocal appearance:

    Cesare Angelotti - Zachary Nelson
    A sacristan - Dale Travis
    Mario Cavaradossi - Brian Jadge
    Floria Tosca - Amanda Echalaz
    Baron Scarpia - Raymond Aceto through August 8, then Thomas Hampson August 11-24
    Spoletta - Dennis Petersen
    Sciarrone - Christian Bowers
    A shepherd boy - Stefan Biller
    Jailer - Christopher Remmel

    Remaining performances: July 20, 30 at 8:30 PM; August 8, 11, 15, 18, 21, 24 at 8 PM

    Ticket information: click [here]

    All production pictures used in this review are being used with authorization of the Santa Fe Opera Press Office, and are credited to Ken Howard


    Amanda Echalaz: simply stunning! She *is* the Tosca of her generation, like some critics in London have been saying. She is a true spinto, and was able to conquer the formidable Santa Fe Opera Crosby Theater with its open air, vast setting in the middle of the New Mexico desert, and she did it with remarkable ease.

    Dear readers, you need to realize that we're talking about massive settings. This vast open air auditorium for 2,234 people forces Ms. Echalaz's voice to compete with the wide open Santa Fe mountains, wind, some monsoon storms breeding, and the incredibly channeled sound coming from the pit that is peculiar in its configuration and faces the audience like the mouth of a cave. The back of the stage is not a wall... it's open air again. It's a big gaping hole. Nothing to reflect her voice back to the audience. Not to forget that this thing is located on a Mesa with a 7,200 feet elevation of dry mountain air. Not a lot of oxygen. Not a lot of moisture for the vocal chords.

    And I was back there at the highest level which is where one should be to publish a proper review - with full view of the dynamic movements on the stage, and the opportunity to gauge whether or not the singer's voice reaches all corners of the theater.

    And believe me, hers did, to a point that it made it almost unfair to her two male counterparts. Ms. Echalaz was so much more impressive than her colleagues singing Mario and Scarpia, that this was the one downside of the evening. One wishes to see her in a Tosca with more forceful and dramatic singers for the roles of Mario Cavaradossi and Scarpia - the latter, particularly, wasn't scary enough acting-wise although he was vocally correct - this is likely to improve when vastly experienced Thomas Hampson takes over Raymond Aceto from August 11 until the end of the run. The former is substituting for Andrew Richards for the duration of the run, and I'm sorry to say that he didn't do so well, with a poorly rendered "E lucevan le stelle," especially with some faulty high notes. She, on the other hand, completely dominated the stage, and left little room for anybody else. In duets and ensembles, one would listen to Amanda, with some hints here and there of what her peers were singing.

    Yet, it all seemed effortless to her. She possesses incredible elegance and self-assured stage presence. She moves around in her element, looking absolutely drop-dead gorgeous in her blue gown with low cleavage, showing some tan lines that must have something to do with the weather in Santa Fe these last couple of weeks.

    But then, this imposing and dominating singer/actress gets to "Vissi d'arte" - and delivers it with incredible delicacy, in low volume, looking introspective, and the theater comes to a standstill. People hold their breaths not to disturb the singer's quiet and sensitive delivery; all the sounds of nature seem to stop, the audience is mesmerized, and bursts into wild applause after she is done.

    Yes, we've seen many Toscas. Yes, we know the music and the libretto by heart. Still, Amanda Echalaz was able to make it all new again, with her girlish and flirtatious stance interspersed with bursts of jealousy in Act I, her despair and disgust in Act II, and her disbelief and grief in Act III.

    Amanda issued every single note the way they should be issued. Her performance was absolutely flawless.

    The set design for this production is simply stunning. Beautiful visual imagery was a constant feature of this show. Tosca's suicide scene was one of the most striking I've seen.

    Certain details of the sets were incredibly beautiful. And guess what? It was a period staging! How rare! I mean, a real period staging, including research to select specific details of the architecture of Palazzo Farnese, down to pinpointing Scarpia's room, as well as research to substantiate accurate period costumes. A refreshing event in this day and age of updates and Konzept productions. The solution of having the singers walk on a huge painting in act I was clever; Scarpia's office was appropriately oppressive with the painting looming over the singers; and the setting for act III was incredibly beautiful. Check it out with this series of production pictures:

    Stage direction was good, with efficient use of the stage space, and a few surprises like Tosca willingly almost kissing Scarpia in their first scene together. Lighting made good use of the dramatic open-air theater.

    The orchestra showed good balance, and Maestro Cheslin did well. The sonority was great and the sounds did not overpower the singers (it was more a matter of lack of projection from the males - but hey, we'll give them the benefit of the doubt; certainly it is difficult to sing in Santa Fe and these singers probably do a lot better in more intimate settings).

    But the star of the night was a lady from South Africa. Read her delightful interview with us [here].

    After the show, Almaviva met the very friendly and down-to-Earth artist backstage. In person, she is just like she said: Diva behavior hasn't rubbed off on her yet. Oh, and by the way, in person she is even prettier than in her pictures above!

    Ms. Echalaz, you got a fan; and I'm sure you got thousands of other American fans after your debut in our country. Good luck at your upcoming Met and Chicago Lyric performances as Cio-Cio San in Madama Butterfly, and at the Royal Opera House again in the title role of Tosca. You're headed to a major career!

    Overall, this production gets a grade B+ from Opera Lively. It is not A+ given that the two principal male singers were not as good as the leading soprano. However everything else worked so very well in Santa Fe (conductor, orchestra, stage direction, settings, costumes, lighting) that these other items prevent the less than ideal singing from bringing down the score to anything lower than B+. It was a very pleasant evening, and a production that is worth seeing, especially once Thomas Hampson arrives when it's quite possible that the role of Scapia will become more solid (even though Mr. Aceto was correct - the problem resides more with Mr. Jadge). But in any case, nobody who has an opportunity to come to Santa Fe should miss a change of seeing Amanda Echalaz on stage.

    Let me explain the score a bit. It reflects the overall experience of the evening. I think of an overall grade as a reflection of global quality and public enjoyment, and certainly there were gasps of pleasure heard in the theater with each clever staging solution and each delicate and precise vs. powerful and impressive delivery by Ms. Echalaz. So if we think of singing by the three principals, I'd give her a 10, Mr. Aceto a 6.5, and Mr. Jadge a 3.5. This would give us an average of 6.6 for singing.

    Then, we have orchestra with 9, conducting with 9, stage direction 9, set designs 10, costumes 10, lighting 9, and venue, 10 (I think the venue does add a lot to the enjoyment and should be included in an assessment of overall quality of the experience).

    Let's give singing a weight of 3 folds. So, we have 20 points there, and 69 for the other aspects. Total 89, which would be a B+.


    Tosca in Bregenz - 2007

    A notable production of Tosca occurred in the Bregenzer Festspiele of 2007. The opening night cast included tenor Zoran Todovorich as Cavaradossi, Nadja Michael as Tosca, and Gidon Saks as Scarpia. The production was by Philipp Himmelmann, with set design by Johannes Leiacker, and costumes by Jorge Jara. Music director was Ulf Schirmer.

    The striking surroundings for this open-door, lake setting were matched by the impressive sets, featuring a huge eye (160 ft x 100 ft) that symbolized the omnipresent Big Brother-style authoritarian police under Chief Scarpia, snooping on everybody's lives. The eye could be turned, opened, and rotated, and the iris could be removed to reveal a chorus of bishops. It also could function as a screen on which the face of Tosca was projected, and an execution platform for Cavaradossi - who got dumped in the lake below! Well, it was a stunt man who got dumped in the frigid lake - the singer was dry and comfortable for the curtain calls. During the torture scene, the eyeball again became a screen to show the ferocious face of the torturer. An anti-torture theme dominated the performance, with slogans against it being printed on the playbill.

    Accounts of Todorovich's singing in this production were very favorable. He was described as a powerful dramatic tenor who was also capable of compelling delicacy in the more subdued moments, such as the B minor aria "E lucevan le stelle" which he delivered with lyric beauty. Ms. Michael who up to 2005 was a mezzo then transitioned to soprano territory, and predictably she did well in the lower regions of her role's tessitura. She was also said to have acted well the rather graphic scenes in this production, which had Scarpia gropping her extensively, and had her stabbing him first in his crotch. One downside of the casting was reportedly the fact that Gidon Saks as Scarpia wasn't very convincing as an evil character, given that the singer had rather sympathetic good looks and stance. One would want a more terrifying-looking and acting Scarpia. Playing by the Vienna Symphony (which wasn't on eyeview of the audience) was said to have been good.

    Some clips of this production can be found on YouTube:

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