Review: TOSCA at Opera Theatre Of Saint Louis

This masterful production plays through June 25.

By: May. 30, 2023
Review: TOSCA at Opera Theatre Of Saint Louis

It’s a masterpiece!  Tosca has opened at Opera Theatre of St. Louis, and the production  emphatically reconfirms that group’s status as one of the world’s great opera companies. 

The evening was soft and lovely—one of those Maxfield Parrish ones—and scores of patrons were enjoying gourmet picnic suppers on the beautiful grounds of the Loretto-Hilton theater in Webster Groves.  A little wine?  Perhaps some champagne?  There was a glowingly good mood in the air.  These folks were soon to be immersed in the lush melodic glory of Puccini at his best.

Tosca opened in Rome in 1900.  Puccini and his librettists based it on a play that Victorien Sardou had written for Sarah Bernhardt.  The story has everything one could ask for in a serious opera: love, jealousy, lust, revolutionary politics, torture.  It has a deliciously evil villain and deaths by stabbing, by shooting, and by suicide.  It has church bells and cannons and music, music, music!

So, it’s melodrama at its finest.  Such colossal emotions absolutely require the words to be sung, not spoken.  (Well, in the absence of Bernhardt.)   The story is the very essence of opera.

It’s set in Rome in June, 1800.  The action occurs in some eighteen hours, in three iconic places in Rome:  the church of Sant’Andrea de la Valle, the Palazzo Farnese, and the Castel Sant’Angelo—all within walking distance.  (Perhaps you’ve visited them?)

Cavaradossi, a painter, is in love with singer Floria Tosca.  She responds with a true, but jealous love.  Angelotti, an escaped political prisoner, seeks refuge in the church where Cavaradossi is working.  The two are old friends, and the painter hides his friend at his estate.  Baron Scarpia, the Regent of Police, comes with his henchmen to recapture Angelotti.  Scarpia is obsessed with lust for Tosca.  Will the lovely lady reveal the fugitive’s hiding place to save Cavaradossi from torture?   Will she give herself to Scarpia to save her lover from the gallows? 

Puccini wrote Tosca as a “through-composed” score.  That is, there is music throughout;  there is no spoken dialogue.  Without overture, it dives right into the action.  There are some distinct arias, yes, but overall the score is rather like a very fine and sensitive film score.  The music gives rich, subtle support to the changing moods—romantic, blissful, fearful, combative, seductive—and even comic.  (There’s a charmingly funny Sacristan.) 

This show has real masters at the helm.  Stage Director James Robinson is the company’s Artistic Director and he has a long history of splendid productions.  The fine orchestra is led by OTSL’s Principal Director, Daniela Candillari.  She’s younger, but equally gifted.  Quite marvelous work is done by both.

The cast, as is usual with OTSL, features some truly Olympic quality singers drawn from around the world.  Robert Stahley sings Cavaradossi, and his is the perfect voice for this role.  His impassioned, soaring tenor at times reminded me of Caruso.  Katie Van Kooten, as Tosca, brings a voice of lovely purity and immense power to the role. Hunter Enoch triumphs as Baron Scarpia;  he’s charming, yet that deep powerful voice resonates with evil.

Fine work in supporting roles is done by Joseph Park (Angelotti), Adam Cantangui (Spoletta), Kellen Schrimper (the ominous Sciarrone), and Titus Muzi III as the Sacristan.

It’s a dark story, and Set Designer Allen Moyer gives us a grandly rich, traditional setting.  It’s framed by gorgeously carved dark wooden panels.  Act I (the church) has a huge gray drapery on which is projected the artist’s current work:  the face of the Madonna.  On Scarpia’s sudden entrance he drags it down alarmingly.  Act II reveals a Palazzo of stunning spaciousness and intricate detail.  It is very like the magnificent classic drawings of Bibiena or Piranesi—filled floor to ceiling with ornate sculpture and architectural detail.  Is all this painted—or projected?  Act III (Castel Sant’Angelo) presents a pre-dawn foggy view of—a street?  a river?  All in all it’s one of the most beautifully effective sets I’ve seen at OTSL.  The fluid and dramatic lighting is by Eric Southern.

Costumes (also by Mr. Moyer) could not be more perfect.  True to period, strikingly handsome, they suit the story beautifully.  (Sciarrone seems a black image straight from the Reign of Terror.)

Now I’m not a fan of projected scenery.  Usually I’d prefer that high tech not intrude into the lively arts.  But here designer Greg Emetaz gives us a few gorgeous projections used not only for background, but for powerful dramatic effect.  At the close of Act I the image of Scarpia’s lust-beridden face grows to dominate the stage as a crescendo of thundering cannons makes the whole world shake.  And Tosca’s fatal leap from the parapet which closes the story is done in vague and immensely artful overlapping slow-motion images of her fall.  It’s far more moving than any live leap could be.

Tosca, as presented at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, is a wonder indeed.   Don’t miss it!

It plays through June 25.

Photos by Eric Woolsey


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From This Author - Steve Callahan

A native Kansan I have a BA (Math and Theatre) and MA (Theatre). I was working on a PhD in Theatre when IBM sniffed my math background and lured me away with money enough to feed my (then two) childre... (read more about this author)


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