Elizabeth Richter stars in title role of Floria Tosca in the… (Bud Johnson // Special to…)
Annapolis Opera's performance of "Tosca" last weekend scaled new dramatic heights while delivering Giacomo Puccini's work, which premiered in Rome in 1900.
Puccini was inspired to write the opera after seeing Sarah Bernhardt in Sardou's play "La Tosca."
Having seen every Annapolis Opera production during the past 16 years, I would rank this "Tosca" near the top for its powerful singers, who were able to create intense drama with the Annapolis Opera Orchestra.
Although the opera's setting is Rome in 1800 as Napoleon's army invades the city, much in the plot of political intrigue, corruption, lust, violence and sexual intimidation seems current.
Diva Floria Tosca and her lover, the idealistic artist Mario Cavaradossi, are used by villainous police chief Baron Scarpia to capture escaped political prisoner Cesare Angelotti.
"Tosca" is operatic drama at its most intense, grabbing our emotions from the first dramatic chords through all three acts.
Act 1 begins with Angelotti rushing into St. Andrea Cathedral to hide in a chapel. Painter Cavaradossi is dealing with the Sacristan before working on his Magdalene painting. Tosca arrives and jealously questions Cavaradossi about the blue-eyed sitter he has depicted. Her fears are calmed by his assurance that his world is ruled by Tosca's dark eyes in the rapturous "occhi neri" (Black Eyes duet).
Later, Scarpia arrives in search of Angelotti. He recognizes the likeness of Lady Attavanti (Angelotti's sister) in Cavaradossi's painting and discovers a fan with the Attavanti crest. Scarpia confronts Tosca with this evidence to arouse her jealousy. Act 1 ends with Scarpia plotting that he'll send Cavaradossi to his execution and have Tosca in his arms, singing,"Tosca, you turn my thoughts from God" against the Te Deum processional.
In Act 2 inside his apartment, Scarpia looks forward to an evening of "one rape and one murder" as Cavaradossi is tortured while Tosca and Scarpia exchange barbs.
In response to Tosca's bartering for Cavaradossi's life, Scarpia proposes a deal.
Tosca's reflections are heard in "Vissi d'arte" describing how she has lived for only art and love. After signing a safe passage for Tosca and Cavaradossi, Scarpia waits for Tosca to consummate the bargain, which she does by stabbing him. Tosca places lighted candles around Scarpia's dead body before leaving his apartment to end the act.
Act 3 opens near dawn, with Cavaradossi in his cell writing a final letter to Tosca (E lucevan le stelle) recalling happier days. Tosca enters his cell to tell him of the arrangement she made with Scarpia and of his death at her hands, inspiring Cavaradossi's "Dolci mani" (sweet hands). A promised mock execution of Cavaradossi becomes real as he falls dead before a firing squad.
Tosca leaps to her death after exclaiming she will meet Scarpia before God as the opera ends.
As Floria Tosca, soprano Elizabeth Richter met every acting and vocal demand, with a voice of great fullness and beauty. Her wide range encompassed magnificent highs and a darkly dramatic midrange. She held nothing back - her expressive "Vissi d'arte" powerfully soaring, to end with hardly a pause before singing the next lines, proving she had plenty of power in reserve.
As Cavaradossi, tenor Jon Burton showed the necessary vocal steel to match Richter, and he delivered an ardent "Recondita Armonia" to capture the audience's early attention, along with a later, heartfelt "E lucevan le stelle."
Burton's voice has thrilling power and beauty enough to make him a world-class tenor if he develops a little more vocal nuance.
As Scarpia, baritone Jerett Gieseler held his own with Richter and Burton, displaying a rich voice and strong acting skills.
The secondary roles were also well sung. Angelotti was sung by bass-baritone Ryan D. Kuster, the Sacristan by bass-baritone Andrew Adelsberger, and Spoletta by tenor Patrick Cook, to balance the stellar trio of principals.
Director Ronald J. Gretz did his usual fine job, assisted by Braxton J. Peters as stage director. Arne Lindquist was set designer, and Lorraine vom Saal was costume designer.
Next on the Annapolis Opera schedule is an Opera Lite concert April 18. Admission is $40-$48. Call 410-267-8135 for information or go to annapolisopera.org. The season closes May 16 with the 22nd annual Vocal Competition Finals, which start at 2 p.m. and are free to the public.