Vaness directs electric Tosca in Kansas CityReview
Tosca was opened last week at The Kauffman Center for the Performing arts in Kansas City, Missouri. It was the end of an abridged season that marked the return to live performances for the Lyric Opera - nd so, Tosca seemed like an appropriate choice.
It’s no secret that opera companies will be relying on the “ABC’s” of opera in the next few years to increase revenue and patron support — and to be honest, that’s fine with me. As we get back to “normal”, I think going back to the classics is a good palate cleanse: Let’s all remember why we love the art form. I felt a visceral sense of comfort from Puccini’s themes in Tosca. The audience on Friday night was extraordinarily responsive — laughing at all the right moments and feeling the tension from the stage.
The production was directed by Carol Vaness; this was the first time I had seen a production directed by such a celebrated singer, and I really felt it was obvious. I could see Ms. Vaness’ artistry in every move of the performers. While there was no groundbreaking staging, I felt a special electricity from the cast, like there was a connection to the greats, which of course Ms. Vaness provides.
I was left wondering how many other productions I would get to see directed by a celebrated performer of the role in their own right. Ms. Vaness sang the role of Tosca for Luciano Pavorotti’s final public performance as Cavaradossi in 2004 — and many other times, of course; so I truly felt there was a singer at the helm.
Marina Costa-Jackson was a triumph as Floria Tosca. Her chest voice was strong and clear. With absolutely no reservations, she ran around with abandon — at one point she was fully prostrated in front of Scarpia (still singing, I might add.) I loved the physicality that was brought to the role, it added a lot of realism. During Act II we saw Tosca’s vulnerability and the gravity of the situation.
When she murders Scarpia, Ms. Costa-Jackson took a very long beat watching him take his last breath. (She was also so stealthy with the knife, I didn’t even notice where she picked it up.) As she did the traditional candles/cross then exited, it was almost in slow motion. That scene is so iconic, slow and steady steps are warranted. (A true diva moves slowly.)
In my opinion, there could have been slightly more drama in the final scene when Tosca jumps. I suppose it is realistic that her final moment would be haphazard, it just felt like a rushed ending to the show.
Cavaradossi was sung by Dimitri Pittas and Scarpia was performed by Michael Mayes. Pittas had great chemistry with Ms. Costa-Jackson — I really enjoyed the intentional shifts of the drama. I very much enjoyed his “E lucevan le stelle” in the third act. This opera is all about the extremes — nothing subtle about Tosca. The passionate and romantic moments between the couple were wholehearted, and perfectly juxtaposed the intensity of interactions with Scarpia. The orchestra was in fine form, conducted by Ryan McAdams. All three of the principles gave nuanced and dramatic performances. The “Te Deum” was exciting, but I wish there had been twice the amount of people on stage. I wonder if this was due to the pandemic (endemic?) or if large crowd scenes in opera are just a thing of the past. Among the chorus — led by Piotr Wisniewski — there were some entertaining antics with choir boys that provided comic relief.
This was a great night by the Lyric Opera and I look forward to their next season!