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Tosca at San Diego Opera

A black-hearted force of throbbing nature

Greer Grimsley as Scarpia.
Greer Grimsley as Scarpia.

Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca was the best thing San Diego Opera has produced in years. This production had it all, especially where it counted the most. Competent, seasoned, opera singers who knew their business performed the three leading roles.

The set and costumes were from the correct time period according to what Puccini composed and intended as a consummate man of the theater. The direction of the singers supported the story that was being told as opposed to distracting the audience from the story and toward some ill-conceived social commentary that has no place in the opera.

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Tosca itself is the social commentary. It is a story about the abuse of power by the police. We don’t need to have it suddenly set in Ferguson, Missouri during the summer of 2014 and have Scarpia sing “Va Tosca” from the window of his police cruiser. If audience members want to have that conversation amongst themselves at intermission or after the show, that’s one of the rich traditions of attending an opera. Audiences don’t need to be directed to such conversations by the production and this Tosca behaved itself.

Video:

Greer Grimsley sings Scarpia

Speaking of Scarpia, Greer Grimsley was about as good as it gets in this role. Vocally, Scarpia is difficult for a baritone on the bottom end and almost impossible for a bass on the top. It takes a very special singer to be heard in the role because of how it sits in the voice.

Being heard has never been a problem for Grimsley. At the end of the first act, the chorus sang its guts out, the orchestra blasted away with what sounded like a scorched-earth take-no-prisoners policy, and yet Grimsley prevailed—his voice smashing through the Te Deum as befits Scarpia. The voice and the role go together. Scarpia is a menacing, black-hearted force of throbbing nature. Grimsley has a voice to match.

Michelle Bradley, in the title role, was vocally more than capable of standing up to Grimsley’s vocal onslaught. Her chest register hails from a bygone golden age of opera singing when sopranos dug into the blood and guts of the role on the lower end. There was a sternness to Bradley’s lower register that filled the role out in a way I didn’t ever expect to hear. Of course, all the top notes were there too. Any soprano can cut through an orchestra with a high note. The real opera singers do it from top to bottom.

The role of Cavaradossi forces the tenor to make a choice immediately. The first set of repeated “F’s” in the first act aria “Recodita armonia” usually determines how the rest of the role is going to go. Tenor Marcelo Puente decided to just leave them alone. He knew that the audience won't remember Act I if he crushes “Vittoria!” in Act II and “E lucevan” in Act III. Crush it he did.

Valerio Galli conducted this production. He is a singer's conductor. When the conductor understands the singers, which Galli does, it holds the entire structure of the opera together in a way that is hard to describe but I know it when I hear it.

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Greer Grimsley as Scarpia.
Greer Grimsley as Scarpia.

Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca was the best thing San Diego Opera has produced in years. This production had it all, especially where it counted the most. Competent, seasoned, opera singers who knew their business performed the three leading roles.

The set and costumes were from the correct time period according to what Puccini composed and intended as a consummate man of the theater. The direction of the singers supported the story that was being told as opposed to distracting the audience from the story and toward some ill-conceived social commentary that has no place in the opera.

Sponsored
Sponsored

Tosca itself is the social commentary. It is a story about the abuse of power by the police. We don’t need to have it suddenly set in Ferguson, Missouri during the summer of 2014 and have Scarpia sing “Va Tosca” from the window of his police cruiser. If audience members want to have that conversation amongst themselves at intermission or after the show, that’s one of the rich traditions of attending an opera. Audiences don’t need to be directed to such conversations by the production and this Tosca behaved itself.

Video:

Greer Grimsley sings Scarpia

Speaking of Scarpia, Greer Grimsley was about as good as it gets in this role. Vocally, Scarpia is difficult for a baritone on the bottom end and almost impossible for a bass on the top. It takes a very special singer to be heard in the role because of how it sits in the voice.

Being heard has never been a problem for Grimsley. At the end of the first act, the chorus sang its guts out, the orchestra blasted away with what sounded like a scorched-earth take-no-prisoners policy, and yet Grimsley prevailed—his voice smashing through the Te Deum as befits Scarpia. The voice and the role go together. Scarpia is a menacing, black-hearted force of throbbing nature. Grimsley has a voice to match.

Michelle Bradley, in the title role, was vocally more than capable of standing up to Grimsley’s vocal onslaught. Her chest register hails from a bygone golden age of opera singing when sopranos dug into the blood and guts of the role on the lower end. There was a sternness to Bradley’s lower register that filled the role out in a way I didn’t ever expect to hear. Of course, all the top notes were there too. Any soprano can cut through an orchestra with a high note. The real opera singers do it from top to bottom.

The role of Cavaradossi forces the tenor to make a choice immediately. The first set of repeated “F’s” in the first act aria “Recodita armonia” usually determines how the rest of the role is going to go. Tenor Marcelo Puente decided to just leave them alone. He knew that the audience won't remember Act I if he crushes “Vittoria!” in Act II and “E lucevan” in Act III. Crush it he did.

Valerio Galli conducted this production. He is a singer's conductor. When the conductor understands the singers, which Galli does, it holds the entire structure of the opera together in a way that is hard to describe but I know it when I hear it.

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