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Pittsburgh Opera's 'Tosca' soars

Great singing may be the first requirement for a successful operatic performance, but the art form soars highest when all its elements reinforce each other.

Pittsburgh Opera's new production of "Tosca," which opened Saturday night at the Benedum Center, Downtown, is a brilliantly integrated interpretation. Stellar vocalism and boldly defined staging and conducting command full involvement from the audience and make this well-known opera as fresh as if it were new.

The opera is a brutal romantic tragedy in which the lovers Mario Cavaradosi and Floria Tosca, a painter and an opera singer respectively, are ensnared in a desperate political struggle. The opera opens with the brassy and imperious music of Baron Scarpia, the head of the secret police in Rome. Then Mario's friend and just escaped political prisoner Cesare Angelotti rushes in, desperate for a place to hide.

Conductor Antony Walker and stage director Kristine McIntyre sharply delineate the inherent character of the scenes in the first act. The agitation of the first scene passes after Angelotti hides in a chapel. Walker then set a comfortable pace for McIntyre to play up the unpressured quality of "normal" life. The humor of the Sacristan's character was perfectly captured by Kevin Glavin, who overplayed none of the imaginative details.

Hugo Vera, a young tenor whose credits include the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, gave a winning portrayal of Cavaradosi. He sang with impressive consistency of tonal color throughout his range and had good power. His dramatic range was impressive, too • from the lightness with which he interacts with the Sacristan to his confidence in handling his lover's jealousy and above all in his emotional roller coaster in the last act.

Angela Brown's Tosca is not to be missed. Her voice is a powerhouse but she is an artist and uses it with wonderful flexibility. Her alternation between jealousy and a generously loving spirit when we first see her with Cavaradosi feels natural • a single personality rather than bi-polar extremes.

The Scarpia of Mark Delavan is no less inspired. He too has ample vocal power to do justice to his role. Delavan said in an interview that Scarpia makes "one of the great Darth Vader entrances in opera." Smart and malign though Delavan plays him in the first act, Scarpia's evil is particularly well characterized in the second act.

Delavan draws on more than a few gestures familiar from films about Mafia Dons, especially a seemingly calm manner hiding a craven nature, in the sadistic second act, which takes place in Scarpia's office. Cavaradosi is tortured in an adjacent room, his screams audible, as Scarpia bargains with Tosca for her lover's life, ultimately demanding sex.

Tosca may not have encountered anyone like Scarpia before, but he also has not been up against anyone like her. Brown gave a richly hued portrait at every point of a determined woman pushed past the breaking point. Tosca thinks she's managed to arrange not only for Cavaradosi to be spared but also for a safe conduct pass for the two of them out of Rome. But when she sees the chance to kill a man who has just said her hatred for him makes him want her more, she stabs him to death. Her "Vissi d'art" occupied its own introspective space on the stage, while McIntyre's staging of the murder was haunting.

The final act featured Vera's touching singing of "E lucevan le stele" before he is executed and strong, clear staging. Brown's Tosca was riveting straight through to the end, where she jumps to her death cursing Scarpia in words while the orchestra plays the music of what is really in her heart, Cavaradosi.

Walker led the opera orchestra in one of its most magnificent performances. The strings were rich in tone and full of expressive nuances, even including tasteful portamento. The wind solos were expressive, the wind section well integrated, and the brass and percussion had impressive impact with big tone. The conductor was also sensitive to the singers in both pacing and balance.

Bravo!

Pittsburgh Opera's production of "Tosca" will be repeated at 7 p.m. Tuesday, 8 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. April 1 at the Benedum Center, Downtown. Admission is $10 to $195.75. Details: 412-456-6666 or www.pittsburghopera.org .

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Tosca

Pittsburgh Opera?s production of ?Tosca• will be repeated at 7 p.m. Tuesday, 8 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. April 1 at the Benedum Center, Downtown. Admission is $10 to $195.75. Details: 412-456-6666 or  www.pittsburghopera.org .

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