Lise Lindstrom, strong supporting cast forge noteworthy ‘Tosca’ at Glimmerglass
Former GO Director Michael MacLeod leaves behind a fitting legacy with this memorable production of the Puccini favorite
Glimmerglass Opera hit on a winning formula last season with its production of Verdi’s La Traviata; that is, cast a magnetic, experienced soprano in the title role and surround her with promising young singers. Mary Dunleavy as Violetta carried that Traviata to triumph on her delicate shoulders.
Now Lise Lindstrom has worked the same magic in a tense, dark and immensely satisfying performance of Puccini’s Tosca. Indeed, many will judge this Tosca as the crowning achievement of General & Artistic Director Michael MacLeod’s four years as head of the company.
Lindstrom is singing the role at Glimmerglass for the first time in her career. Nevertheless, she has already so inhabited Tosca that the audience could see a wide variety of emotions flicker across her face in her pivotal confrontation with Scarpia in Act Two: foolish ignorance of the danger of her situation; anguish as her lover Cavaradossi is being tortured; shock at Scarpia’s demands that she submit to him sexually in exchange for Cavaradossi’s release; and confidence as she found a way out.
While other sopranos can also sing Tosca, few can make her anything other than a caricature of the jealous, histrionic opera singer. Lindstrom made her real, and therefore the terror of her predicament as she faced Scarpia weighed on the audience. She made us care about her fate—and not just about whether she could sing the celebrated aria Vissi d’arte, which is the emotional heart of the opera.
She can sing it, of course. She was a celebrated Turandot at the Metropolitan Opera last year, stepping into the part on very short notice with no stage rehearsal. Her voice has considerable power on top. She phrases sensitively. She can sing softly, only occasionally being overwhelmed by the orchestra. Good as her version of Vissi d’arte was, the stage picture was more dramatic still. She delivered the aria standing stock still, dressed in a white, 1920s, off-the-shoulder, body-hugging gown. She is glamorous, slim, and sexy (as the opera singer, Tosca, should be). With Scarpia and his henchmen all dressed in black, she was a shaft of light at center stage, creating her own spotlight.
Lindstrom showed sensitivity and great artistry at other points where Tosca can often turn into melodrama. Her jealous accusations in Act One directed at Cavaradossi were believable and funny. Her shock at the turn of events in Act Three was measured and pitiful. Her death was dignified. Lindstrom understated what is too often overstated by singers trying to act, and not actors who can sing.
Lindstrom was fortunate in having two stronger male singers than did Dunleavy in Traviata. Her Cavaradossi is Adam Diegel, who has sung roles ranging from Don Jose in Carmen to Rodolfo in Boheme. His voice has considerable power. The top was secure, though not yet really thrilling. The middle of the voice is very attractive. He delivered both his major arias convincingly and received an ovation for Recondita armonia. Because this aria comes so early in Act One, the audience knows right away if this is going to be a good day for lovers of the tenor voice. It was. Of equal importance, he is a fine actor, tall and handsome, with an assured stage presence. He and Lindstrom made a passionate couple.
Scarpia was sung by baritone Lester Lynch, who has appeared as Porgy in both Washington and Chicago. He has the range and power for the role, if not yet the snarl and full measure of malevolence this part demands. Vocally he met every challenge and gave great pleasure. Va, Tosca and the Te Deum that end Act One were strongly delivered and produced a harrowing conclusion to the act. His credo that opens Act Two was sufficiently terrifying.
As an actor Lynch offered only two gears: disingenuous humor, and nastiness (mostly nastiness). With more experience he will find other moods along that continuum that can make Scarpia more than a cardboard villain.
The remainder of the cast was drawn from the ranks of the Young American Artists Program. All made strong contributions. Aaron Sorensen was vocally impressive as the patriot Angelotti, on the run from the secret police. Last season Robert Kerr showed his own “Scarpia” side as a ruthless secret policeman in Menotti’s The Consul. This year he demonstrated his range as an appropriately officious and comic Sacristan, singing the part rather than blustering through it. Dominick Rodriguez and Zachary Nelson were believable as Scarpia’s bad guys, Spoletta and Sciarrone.
One lapse was director Ned Canty’s decision to update the setting to a twentieth century police state, thereby permitting him to costume Scarpia and his attendants as run-of-the-mill Hollywood fascists. This was a tired touch twenty years ago, and it forces the audience to ignore the text that makes reference at a crucial point to the battle of Marengo in 1800 between the French under Napoleon and the Austrians (Scarpia is backed by the Austrians, who eventually lost at Marengo.) If this updating had brought any new meaning to Tosca, fine. But Canty had nothing else up his sleeve.
The sets are utilitarian, not getting in the way of the singing and acting, but not adding much, either. Act One is a cramped church. Act Two is a police office, complete with typewriters. (If Scarpia had managed to bed Tosca, it is hard to imagine where, except on the floor, this would have happened. No couch is in sight.) With no candles in this police office, Tosca has to use lamps to illuminate the body of Scarpia. Sorry, candles match the music. Act Three is simply an open area passing as a jail within a fort, along with a wall for Tosca to climb.
The company’s music director, David Angus, led a vigorous and confident account of the score. Even though this was only the second performance, coordination with the singers — even the children in Act One — was expert. The opening to Act Three was a bit sluggish, but otherwise all the tempos were well judged. Despite a couple of bobbles, the exposed horn solo at the start of Act Three was competently played.
Glimmerglass is offering a total of 15 performances of Tosca through August 24. The role of Tosca is not easy to cast, even in the richest of houses. In Lise Lindstrom, Glimmerglass has one of the best. Even if you think you’ve seen all the productions of Tosca you ever need to see, this one will stick in the mind.
What: Puccini’s Tosca
When: July 11, 2010
Who: Glimmerglass Opera
Call: Glimmerglass Box office: (607) 547-2255
Ticket prices: $26 to $126