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Thursday, Oct 18, 2018
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Opera Tampa's Passionate 'Tosca' Cuts To The Heart

TAMPA - At the end of "Tosca," Giacomo Puccini's ruthless melodrama, the audience is splattered with blood: a suicide, stabbing, attempted rape, torture, an execution and a fall from a parapet. With nobody left to sing, the curtain comes down and the crowd goes wild, ensuring Puccini's reputation as opera's most celebrated sadist. The carnage in "Tosca" is, of course, its appeal. But where else do people perish against such great music? That dramatic bite comes to life in this weekend's new production by Opera Tampa, an imperfect but tightly wound effort fueled by enough impassioned moments to engage even the most casual operagoer. Friday night's performance at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center improved markedly over the company's first "Tosca" in 1999 and pulled off a minor miracle by replacing the soprano in the title role. While the production lacks an electric arc over all three acts, it compensates with focused, feeling characters who turn cavernous Morsani Hall into an intimate theater space.
"Tosca" is Puccini's most concentrated opera - the action takes place in one day - but its pivotal arias are too short to be effective within the overall dramatic scheme. The principals have a tough assignment: They must carefully pace their vocal energy, blend high drama with lyrical reflection, be convincing actors and work without the cushion of big ensembles. Rosa D'Imperio, who replaced soprano Patricia Stevens, brought a dynamic and confident flair to her role as Floria Tosca. She showed moments of comic wit in Act I, offered an elegantly shaded showstopper in "Vissi d'arte" ("I live for art") and injected plenty of emotion into her battles with the evil Scarpia. After losing her lover Cavaradossi to a firing squad, she leaped to her death with aplomb. The production's highlight may well have been tenor Gustavo Lopez-Manzitti as Cavaradossi, whose lovely aria "Recondita armonia" ("strange harmony of contrasts") and more convincingly, "E lucevan le stelle" ("the stars shine brightly"), nearly brought 1,900 people to their feet. Guido LeBron plays a downright nasty Scarpia. His baritone voice was particularly sharp and vicious at the right moments. And he molded his character into a loathsome creature who deserves a good steak knife in the gut. LeBron strutted about the stage, dressed in black and sneering at everyone as the orchestra's stark chords underlined his lecherousness. A compelling moment comes early in the action, when LeBron renounces religious faith against the "holy" background of a church service. Director Francis Ford Coppola employed this technique in the "baptism and murder" montage in "The Godfather." The famous director's uncle, Anton Coppola, led the Opera Tampa Orchestra and Chorus with an assured hand, as he has with most all of the company's productions during the past decade. "Tosca" is sung in Italian with English translations projected above the stage. The final performance is at 2 p.m. today at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa; (813) 229-7827.

Reporter Kurt Loft can be reached at (813) 259-7570 or [email protected]

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