New York City Opera is back! I have a personal reason for being excited – by the time I started reviewing opera in fall of 2013, their previous incarnation had already closed up shop and filed for bankruptcy, and I had definitely wanted to cover them. Plus, it’s just plain nice to have a middle-sized company, between the obligatory grandeur of the Met and the scrappy inventiveness of the indie opera companies dotting the city landscape.
This Tosca is staunchly traditional: it replicates the sets and costumes by Adolfo Hohenstein from the opera’s premiere production in 1900. Stage director Lev Pugliese may or may not be making an effort to replicate Nino Vignuzzi’s original staging; he certainly steers the staging to hit all the marks of a very traditional Tosca.
I’ve stated before that I only object to traditionalism when it gets in the way of imagination and entertainment. This production is definitely entertaining – Tosca is such a bodice-ripper that doing it straight-on can hardly fail to engage. And the cast is focused with the moment-to-moment flow of the story; this is decidely not Tosca on autopilot.
This production’s Cavaradossi, James Valenti, has a powerful and flexible voice, more than capable of meeting the dramatic and lyric sides of the role. Soprano Kristen Sampson gave Tosca a warmer shade than she usually gets – you got the feeling this Tosca was aware that her jealous feelings were probably unfounded. That’s not exactly the way the role’s written, but it’s not so strange as to be implausible, and gave Tosca some additional, and welcome, humanity.
The real story of this production, though, is Michael Chioldi as the ultimate opera villian Scarpia. He’s easily the best actor in the cast, projecting a truly elegant surface under which murky waters roil. This was definitely a “love to hate you” kind of Scarpia, with vocal power, confidence and technique to back it up. Overall, a rock-solid Tosca, not at all a bad way to get NYCO back on its feet.
For tickets, click here.
To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.