BWW Reviews: Austin Lyric Opera's TOSCA Triumphs
My apologies to Verdi and Mozart. No one does romance like Puccini. If you were lucky enough to catch Austin Lyric Opera's recent production of Tosca, I assume you'd agree with me. The production is easily among the best productions in ALO's recent history.
For those not familiar with the beloved opera, Tosca is the love story of an opera diva, Floria Tosca, and an artist/political activist, Mario Cavaradossi. When Cavaradossi helps an escaped political prisoner, the evil Baron Scarpia, who lusts after Tosca, sees an opportunity. If Tosca wants to save Cavaradossi, she must give herself to Scarpia. What follows is a great dramatic story of love and betrayal.
Much of the success of ALO's is owed to director Michael Cavanagh and his approach to the material. It's no secret that Tosca is a tragedy. The beloved opera has been, as Cavanagh mentions in his director's notes, criticized for being melodramatic and sometimes over-the-top. Given the major plot points and the unhappy ending, there's really no hiding Tosca's dramatic tone. While Cavanagh never attempts to conceal Tosca's drama, he does make one bold and unexpected move. He highlights moments of comedy. The Act I argument between the jealous Tosca (the wonderful Mardi Byers), and her lover, Mario (the equally superb Scott Piper) is played for laughs. Tosca and Mario equal parts Romeo and Juliet and Will and Ethel. Cavanagh's keen decision to highlight one of the opera's few comedic moments makes the ultimate tragedy all the more tragic. By lifting us and the two main characters up, the farther we all have to fall.
The unexpected moment of comedy serves Byers particularly well. Playing the exchange for laughs allows her to showcase more of Tosca's less desirable character traits. She's vain, feisty, and hot-tempered. Of course, our opinion of her changes by Act II when we see a braver version of her. Indeed, if for whatever reason Byers doesn't impress you in Act I, she will in Act II. Her aria "Vissi d'arte" is astoundingly sung and acted, and her unspoken moment of fear and uncertainty at the end of the act is chilling and suspenseful. Piper is delightful as Cavaradossi as well, and there are many moments in which his booming voice shakes the rafters of Dell Hall. Rounding out the leads is Wayne Tigges, perfectly cast as Scarpia. With his deep baritone voice and tall, imposing figure, Tigges is the epitome of evil in both look and sound, so much so that his curtain call was meet with both cheers and boos, the best compliment to any performer playing the villain.