By Truman C. Wang
The final performance of Tosca – and of the 2016/17 L.A. Opera season – on May 13 was notable for the great chemistry between the Cavaradossi (Russell Thomas) and the new Tosca (Melody Moore, replacing Sondra Radvanovsky) that was sorely missing before. [Click here for the main cast review.]
Melody Moore’s Tosca is a proud, feisty and youthful woman who commands attention upon her first entrance, impatiently pushing Mario aside and rolling her eyes jealously at ‘that Attavanti woman’ in his painting. Vocally, she is a lyric soprano who possesses a beautiful tone whether singing quietly in pianissimo (as she does often) or under great pressure protesting Scarpia’s sexual advances. Her softly-intoned ‘Vissi d’arte’ is as much a poignant plea for God’s mercy as it is a quiet meditation on life’s unfairness.
As Cavaradossi, tenor Russell Thomas apparently saves his best for last and sings with rining Italianate tone and slancio that have heretofore escaped him. The Act One love duet sounds extra sensuous on account of the fine vocal and physical chemistry between Mr. Thomas and Ms. Moore. With his newfound tenorial brilliance, Mr. Thomas gives a long, thrilling cry of ‘Vittoria!’ as a defiant Cavaradossi in Act Two. One could see a Wagnerian Heldentenor in the future for Mr. Thomas.
Also new is the Scarpia of Kihun Yoon, a member of the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, who has the thankless task of adapting his fine but rather lightweight baritone to the tyrannical, larger-than-life bass-baritone voice of Scarpia. On the flip side, as an actor, Mr. Yoon cuts a convincing and terrifying figure in the Act Two torture scene, bearing an uncanny resemblance to a certain cruel dictator in the Far East.
L.A. Opera’s resident conductor Grant Gershon brings a lot of drive and drama to the many big moments of the opera, as in Scarpia’s ‘Gia mi dicon venal’, and plenty of delicate sensuality to the arias and love duet – the moving harp and cello passage in ‘Vissi’ d’arte’, the affectionate portamento at the end of ‘Recondita armonia’, or the aching romanticism of the love duet that slowly builds in excitement and ecstasy in a very Wagnerian way (many have called Tosca “Puccini’s Tristan und Isolde”). The orchestra pit teems with drama as vividly as the stage.
The sets and props are still the same – drab and cluttered. The supporting character players Angelotti, Sacristan, Spoletta, et al. are still superb. The L.A. Opera Chorus and members of the L.A. Children’s Chorus are always topnotch.
L.A. Opera's 2017/18 season will open on September 9 with Bizet's “Carmen”. For tickets and subscription information, call or visit www.laopera.org
Truman C. Wang is Editor-in-Chief of Classical Voice, whose articles have appeared in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the Pasadena Star-News, other Southern California publications, as well as the Hawaiian Chinese Daily.