By Elsa Tranter
Photo credit: Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera
Way back in 1932, the brand new beaux-arts War Memorial Opera House opened in San Francisco with a production of Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca”. For the Company’s fiftieth anniversary in 1972, Jean-Pierre Ponnelle staged a new production. The company’s original Tosca was re-created in 1997 for the reopening of the Opera House after it was closed for two years for retro-fitting. And this year marks the 39th time the company has mounted this classic, with another new production, this one directed by Shawna Lucey with sets and costumes by Robert Innes Hopkins and lighting by Michael James Clark. The popularity of the opera is understandable and it resonates as well in 2018 as it did when it was written—liberty, politics, corruption, the power of men over women and the ultimate tragedy of so many situations.
This Tosca still has the traditional classic look, though the sets are brighter and more filled with light than past efforts. I especially liked the look of the first act with its bright crimson walls and Tosca clothed in shades of red and pink that complemented the background beautifully (the set was modeled after the Duomo di San Giorgio in Ragusa, Sicily, not after the church where it said to be set). Some of the lighting effects were excellent (Act III’s dawn breaking behind the Castel Sant’Angelo for example) but In Act II, the changes in light seemed a little off, as it was meant to be evening but the light was streaming through the windows of Scarpia’s apartment in the Palazzo Farnese.
On to the singers: Floria Tosca was sung by Italian soprano Carmen Giannattasio, making her much heralded San Francisco Opera debut and her role debut. She was a credible diva with a sparkling voice to match; she played Tosca as a young and somewhat flighty star, alternating between ardor and jealousy as is befitting the character. Ms. Giannattasio has a large following around the world, for her singing, her acting, and her fashion glamour. She has been affectionately called the “Lady Gaga of opera” by Placido Domingo for her bold and evolving artistry and style. Having just returned from seeing Lady Gaga in ‘A Star is Born’ at the movies I can see what he means!
Her tenor and lover, the American Brian Jagde, was an excellent match for her vocally and physically. (He was reprising a role he’d sung in both 2012 and 2014 in San Francisco). He has a powerful voice that can raise the rafters but can also be tender and quiet. They made a beautiful couple with a lot of chemistry and commanded the stage when they were on it.
Rounding out the inevitable operatic triangle was the corrupt police chief Scarpia of American Baritone Scott Hendricks. He sang and acted well but to me his voice was not deep or dark enough and he didn’t convey menace convincingly.
Completing the cast were Bass-baritone Dale Travis as the Sacristan, tenor Joel Sorensen as Spoletta, baritone Hadleigh Adams as Angelotti, baritone Andrew Manea as Sciarrone and bass-baritone Christian Pursell as the jailer. Each was well suited to their role and sang and acted with nary a flaw.
British conductor Leo Hussain made his company debut in this series, leading the San Francisco Opera orchestra and chorus (prepared perfectly for their small part) by Ian Robertson. Hussain’s pace was a bit slow and lackluster—not as charged with excitement as some productions.
Tosca is a beautifully complete opera, good for a newcomer, full of tuneful arias, but classic enough that it worth going to over and over again without being wearied of it. San Francisco must think the same thing as there are nine performances in this year’s production, and six remain: October 17, 20, 23, 26 and 30, all at 7:30pm and October 14 at 2:00pm.
Elsa Tranter is a Bostonian who has lived in Berkeley for over 40 years and has been an opera goer for most of those years. She worked as a graduate student adviser at UC Berkeley and still attends Cal Performances regularly. Her favorite composer is Wagner and her favorite opera is Tristan und Isolde.