By Tadzio Garcia
The local Pacific Opera Project’s production of Puccini’s “Tosca” is not to be missed. Artistic Director Josh Shaw introduces performances unique to the opera world here in Los Angeles.
Adding to the opera experience of “Tosca,” the audience is directed to walk to a different location for each act within the grounds of the St. James United Methodist Church in Pasadena, all set to a day’s story in Rome on June 14, 1800.
The cast includes renowned artists with top-notch voices. There is a world-class interpretation of the music conducted by Stephan Karr, POP Musical Director and a chorus of more than 40, including a children’s chorus. English supertitles were added.
“Tosca” has historical references that pit warring political parties against each other, like the Rights-of-Man (Napoleon Bonaparte’s republic) against the age-old rule of church and royalty.
Within that context, Floria Tosca, a celebrated singer, and Mario Cavaradossi, a painter, seek to preserve their love.
Daria Somers, as the role of Tosca, immediately grasped the audience’s attention with a velvety tone and a flow of interpretation.
Her voice is more suited for a lighter-voiced Mozart role, such as Susanna in Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” Nevertheless, her “Vissi d’arte” is a showstopper.
Time is suspended, leaving only the beauty of Somers’ rendition of “Vissi d’arte” (“I have lived only for art and love”) in Act II.
Every phrase, each syllable and note spoke a world of emotion. Somer’s musical sculpting left the audience, who erupted in applause after her arias, breathless.
Brian Cheney, as Cavaradossi , sings with a strong lustrous voice, perfecting it to Puccini-style.
There is an art to singing and bringing a point of view across. Cheney’s nuances of interpretation displayed a well-studied role through his understanding of Italian language and the nature of the character.
After Cheney’s interpretation of “E luceven le stelle” (“And the stars shone”), the audience reacted in a roar of approval during Act III.
Act I was held in the St. James Church, with the traditional set design representing Rome’s Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle.
This did aptly work with the text, the Sacristan praying “…and the angel of Mary, she conceived the Holy Spirit…” or the “Te Deum laudamus” (“We praise thee, O God”) as a chorus of priests, nuns and a children’s choir representing altar boys.
Shaw includes a swinging censer containing burning incense to the proceedings of the “Te Deum,” playing on the audience’s senses, which heightens this opera experience.
Baron Scarpia, played by Patrick Blackwell, is placed physically above the rituals during the “Te Deum” telegraphing that he is above the power of the church.
From a theatrical standpoint, this is playing his hand too early.
The audience knows he’s evil through his musical motifs and his text during the juxtaposition with the chorus during the “Te Deum.”
Blackwell sings Scarpia with a robust voice and with incomparable overtones capable of filling any opera house in the world.
Scarpia portrays evil evoking fear, which Blackwell handled with convincing manner. However, people were too comfortable around him.
Spoletta, a police agent played by Ryan Thorn, was in full character in fear, understanding the moment, during his Act II scene with Scarpia.
Act II was held in an adjoining theater and set to a scene in Baron Scarpia’s apartment in the Palazzo Farnese.
We discover that Scarpia has a torture chamber connected to his private apartment.
When the torture chamber door opened, saturated lights of red and orange made a bold statement.
Lighting Designer Ryan Shull’s ingenious tone of colors matches the emotional journey of the “Tosca.”
The opera’s Act III was outside in a courtyard, where the audience looked up at the scene that took place on a second floor balcony of the upper parts of Castel Sant’Angelo.
The lights put the audience in the correct time slot of the opera, early morning on June 15.
The death scenes include a progression of full-on saturation of lights, which further emphasized the actual deaths of Tosca and Cavaradossi and the sad ending of this love story.
The opera ends Sept. 26 and 28 at St. James in Pasadena. Saira Frank will perform Tosca on Sept. 26. Tickets are $20 for students.