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TOSCA
An impressive production

By Iride Aparicio

Photo Credit: Pat Kirk
Standing: Olga Chernisheva as Tosca
Standing: Olga Chernisheva as Tosca

SAN JOSÉ, CA – Everything in Opera San José’s production of  Puccini’s Opera TOSCA, that opened  its  2015-2016 Season, on September 12th at the California Theatre, was impressive. Under the baton of his Orchestra Conductor, Joseph Marcheso, all the nuances of the highly-emotional  Puccini’s score were interpreted with the precision and feeling that gave each note a  life of its own. The voices of the Children and adult choir (Andrew Whitfield) were well blend, and the singers in the principal roles, had the tone quality and complete fluidly in their voices that can only be acquired after many years of singing.  Visually, the sets, designed by Steven Kemp, were creative. The statue of the angel at the end, an sculptural piece of art. The costumes designed by Alyssa Oania’s were elegant, perfectly appropriate for the work. And  TOSCA was directed by Director Brad Dalton, who among others, had previously directed The Magic Flute, Rigoletto, Madama Butterfly, and the premier of Anna Karenina, for Opera San José, and had Matthew Platt as a Principal coach. What the production lacked on its opening night, was emotion.

Puccini saw his opera as a melodrama. He described as “A romantic, lyric and sensual work.” Becaise of it, instead of writing elaborate arias for the principal singers  (Caravadossi sings two, Tosca one one and her duets are fragmentary) he wrote duets fot them, with the purpose to avoid the music to have precedence over the “action.” It was the "action" what needed to be important in TOSCA..

Its libretto, written by Luigi Illica and  Giuseppe Giacosa, was based on a five-act play written by French playwright Victorien Sardou in l887, who based its background on historical events, but  changed the locality of the action from  Naples, Italy, to Rome. Some of the historical events preceding the Opera are as follows:  Angelotti, (Bryan James Myer)

In February of l798, the French troops had occupied the Vatican State and proclaimed Naples a Republic. The Pope had fled to Tuscany and Ferdinando IV of Bourbon (the King of Naples) when tried to rescue him was defeated. So, in April of l799 the Parthenopean Neapolitan Republic  was declared.  In the opera, Mario, who was part French, sided with the French and Angelotti, (Bryan James Myer, pictured left) had been one of the Republican leaders.

In June of the same year, when Napoleon was fighting in Egypt, General Svorov defeated the French  and the Bourbon troops entered Rome. Maria Carolina of Austria (the wife of Ferdinando) united with the British and started a “cleansing” action against all the Republicans,. The action overcame the French forces and dismantled the Republic of Naples. Angelotti, who was working with the French, was imprisoned in the Castel Sant’ Angelo, who was used as a fortress at the time. TOSCA begins with his escape from prison and his trying to hide in the Sant’Andrea Della Valle church's family chapel.

Pucinni saw Sardu’s play in l889 and he like it, but that it was not until a year later, after learning that Illica was writing a libretto for TOSCA for Alberto Franchetti, other composer.  that he visited Sardou twice in Paris to let him know he wanted his libretto for an opera. To get it Puccini  applied to Ricordi, who was his publisher and Franchetti’s publisher, and obtained the libretto for himself

In Sardou’s play, the action that Puccini used in his opera, about Tosca, a singer (Olga Chernisheva)  Scarpia, Rome’s Chief of Police, (Carl King)   and Mario Cavaradossi a painter and Tosca’s lover, (Kirk Dougherty)  takes two days. It starts on Wednesday, June l7 l800 and ends with the dawn of the following day.   

In presentation, Opera San José TOSCA is excellent. The tone of the voices of the principal singers is superb.  Among the best characterizations ot the characters on opening night were those of  Carl King as the Sacristan, Bryan James Myer as Angelotti, and Mathew Hanscom As Scarpia, Mathew Hanscom As Scarpia (Pictured left) who kept in character from beginning to end.

Soprano Chernisheva was flawless in her singing, but her characterization of Fiori Tosca, needed emotion. Lots of emotion in her reactions, in her movements and specially in her facial expressions.

On opening night,  there was “Very little chemistry” between her and Mario. No flirtatiou with her eyes’ no touching when she tells him about "her plan" to spending the night in his Villa, (that she calls their “Shrine of Love”) and even when asking him to give her the ardor of his kisses so that she could yield to the ardor of his desire was sung withoug emotion. In this Opera,  Fiori does not change her facial expression when she is with Mario, the man she loves, or when she is staring at the face of the  man she just murdered.  

When describing to his librettist the character of Tosca,  Puccini demanded feeling. He wanted that Fiori’s words, her movements, her manners, her expressions, came together like a mosaic, to let the audience understand that this woman was so passionate that in spite of her strong Catholic upbringing, she loved so intensely that she would not hesitate to kill for love.

Passion was also missing on that night  in Mario’s character (Kirk Dougherty).  In Act I, telling Fiori in an aria  how much he loves her, he just stands on a corner of the stage looking at the audience instead of looking at her. In this TOSCA, these lovers don't display their feeling for each other. They don’t touch each other, hug, kiss, or cuddle together. Because of it, it is hard for the audience to feel their love.

The lack of emotion, is the only “but” that TOSCA had on its opening night. The rest of the performance went on perfectly. TOSCA  got a long standing ovation.

Olga Chernisheva as Tosca &  Kirk Dougherty as Mario Cavaradossi
Olga Chernisheva as Tosca &  Kirk Dougherty as Mario Cavaradossi

TOSCA will play at the California Theatre until September 27. to order tickets call the box office at 404-437-4450 or order them online at www.operasj.org