BWW Reviews: Austin Lyric Opera's TOSCA Triumphs

BWW Reviews: Austin Lyric Opera's TOSCA Triumphs
Mardi Byers as Tosca. Photo by Mark Matson.

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.

The flawlessness of the performances and direction is matched by the incredible design work of the production. The costumes by Susan Memmott Allred, lighting by Kathryn Eader, and set by R. Keith Brumley all create an environment that is romantic, dangerous, and a bit mysterious, the perfect setting for the Puccini's tragic masterpiece.

While sadly Tosca has now closed, it is sure to be a production that audiences will be talking about for years. Even those who criticize the piece for its flair for the dramatics would be pleased by this glorious production. This is what all operas should aspire to be.

TOSCA, produced by Austin Lyric Opera, closed on Sunday, February 2nd. Austin Lyric Opera's next production, Donizetti's The Elixir of Love, plays The Long Center for the Performing Arts May 1st, 3rd & 4th. Tickets are on sale now. For tickets and information, please visit www.austinlyricopera.org


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Jeff Davis Jeff Davis is a graduate of the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television where he obtained his Bachelor's Degree in Theater with an emphasis in Directing.