Annapolis Opera stages compelling `Tosca'

Production distinguished by majestic performances

November 11, 1999|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Annapolis Opera has never mounted a more tightly conceived production than the "Tosca" it presented last week at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.

Puccini's potboiler plot moved ahead with bristling intensity. Most of the afternoon, I held on for dear life as Scarpia plotted, Cavaradossi professed his undying devotion for his beloved and the Roman republic, and Floria Tosca, true to her big aria, lived and died for art, honor and love.

All of the operatic elements meshed Sunday afternoon. Under conductor Ronald Gretz, the orchestra played incisively, yet remained in balance with the singers.

Braxton Peters' staging added to the intensity. The hyper-religiosity of the famous "Te Deum" scene at the end of Act I nearly dwarfed the Maryland Hall stage.

None of this would have mattered had the singing not been up to snuff, but the local company continues to deliver the goods.

In the title role, Allison Charney was impressive. Her voice has power and youthful bloom, her Italian is flawless, and she can act. When it came time for her to hurl herself from the opera stage's most famous parapet, Charney had me under her spell.

Sunday's other stunner was baritone Sun Yu. He brought dignified menace to the caddish Baron Scarpia, whose urge to possess Tosca fuels his ruthless treatment of the ill-fated Cavaradossi.

Yu's voice is remarkable: deep, sonorous, expressive and fully at the service of Puccini. Avoiding vocal and dramatic cliches, Yu moved his character past the mustache-twirling stereotype of evil toward a more realistic evocation of human depravity. Scarpia doesn't have to be this interesting, and usually he isn't.

I wish tenor Peter Riberi had been able to keep his superb Act I form through the end of the opera. By the time he got to his big moment, "E lucevan le stelle" in the final act, he'd become throaty and was phrasing rather abruptly.

On the whole, it was a glorious afternoon at the opera. As for "Tosca's" melodramatic plot, I couldn't help recalling the words of poet W. H. Auden. "No opera plot can be sensible," he said, "for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible."

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