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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 16, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 03
Triumphant Tosca at Seattle Opera
Arts & Entertainment
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Triumphant Tosca at Seattle Opera

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

TOSCA
SEATTLE OPERA
Through January 24


Seen Tosca too many times? Not if you're faced with the chance to see it as it was Saturday evening, January 10, at Seattle Opera! From the crashing chords that opened the opera, one knew we were in good hands. Conductor Julian Kovatchev proved again his affinity with Puccini, drawing passionate, nuanced sounds from the orchestra. The balance and coordination between pit and stage went far beyond simply having everything together: there was an organic cohesion that raised the performance above what we usually hear. That unity removed all distractions and focused our attention. For this listener, it meant I could sit back, relax and fully enjoy the show.

For instance, as the evil Scarpia, Greer Grimsley seemed even better than in the last time Tosca was performed here. Previously, it was as though that conductor had thought, 'Okay, this guy has a super-powerful voice, so I can let the orchestra go full bore.' The result was that even Greer could not be heard to full advantage. This time Kovatchev made the 'Te Deum' that closes Act One so perfectly balanced that, even though the horns and chorus sounded super-loud, one could still hear Greer's powerful baritone, not as a separate voice, but clearly included in the whole. The effect was thrilling!

What made this Saturday's Tosca truly exceptional was the stage direction (by Jose Maria Condemi) and the acting. While all the singers were more than good vocally, it was the drama that came through most of all. So effective was the pairing of Grimsley's Scarpia with Ausrine Stundyte's Tosca that something unheard of happened: when she killed Scarpia, the audience applauded! No one in the pressroom had ever heard of this happening before, even though collectively we must have seen more than a few dozen different Toscas. (With the vocally powerful, but dramatically weak Scarpia of Philip Horst on Sunday afternoon, no such applause occurred.)

Lithuanian soprano Ausrine Stundyte was a first-class Tosca dramatically, especially when she had Grimsley's nuanced evil to play against. Her voice had a broader vibrato than I care for, and her low notes were weak; but everything else was powerful, including ringing tops. Her physical beauty was also a plus, especially as she floated a mostly soft 'Vissi d'arte' in Act II. American soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams, a graduate of the Seattle Opera Young Artists Program 14 years ago, was equally effective at Sunday's matinee and showed Seattle once again a voice of unsurpassed beauty and warmth, almost the equal of the great Renata Tebaldi in the 1950s. Her voice was large and evenly produced throughout, including a terrific 'chest voice' that added powerful exclamation when commanding Scarpia to die!

Italian tenor Stefano Secco was a more secure tenor (Saturday) than American Adam Diegel (Sunday), who had two barely noticeable cracks in different high notes and whose sound was too buzzy and, on the high notes, too unfocused. Secco had a moderately attractive and even tone except on his high notes, where it suddenly bloomed into a glorious and secure beauty. (I could have done with a couple of those not held quite so long.) Both tenors were adequate actors. The third tenor, in the role of Spoletta , was Alasdair Elliott in both performances. We would do well to see him back in future roles. Baritone Aubrey Allicock from Tucson, AZ, made an impressive Seattle debut in the small part of the fugitive Angelotti.

Adding greatly to the overall success of this production were the painted sets from Seattle Opera's production in the 1960s. These trompe l'oeil screens and drops made it impossible to tell what was real structure and what was merely painting. Seattle Opera spruced up these masterful sets by the renown Ercole Sormani, making them look fresh and perfectly in style for this opera. Good move!

Performances continue on January 17, 21, 23, and 24.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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