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Subject: Regina Opera Presents Puccini's Tosca
From: Judy Pantano <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Judy Pantano <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sat, 25 Mar 2017 14:48:26 -0400
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Regina Opera Presents Puccini's Tosca
A review by Nino Pantano

Giacomo Puccini's Tosca premiered on January 14, 1900 at the Costanzi Theatre in Rome. 
The critics were puzzled and one of them called it a "shabby little shocker".  As Bogart 
said to Bergman in the W.W. II film Casablanca  "In this troubled world the problems of 
two little people don't amount to a hill of beans". That cannot be said of Tosca. The story 
of actress Floria Tosca, her revolutionary lover Mario Cavaradossi and the evil, 
hypocritical, lustful Chief of Police, Baron Scarpia will endure as long as opera exists!

The Regina Opera presented this masterpiece on Saturday March 4th for a run of four 
performances over two weekends with two alternating casts. It should be noted that on 
March 4, 1913, Tosca was presented at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (The Metropolitan 
Opera on tour) with the peerless tenor Enrico Caruso as Cavaradossi, soprano Olive 
Fremstad as Tosca and baritone Antonio Scotti as Scarpia, with the great Arturo Toscanini 
conducting.

Needless to say, those opera legends surely would have been pleased to witness Tosca as 
presented by The Regina Opera in their 47th season, now at Our Lady of Perpetual Help 
Catholic Academy of Brooklyn Theater (OLPH) in Sunset Park.  

The lights dimmed and principal conductor, the gifted Maestro Gregory Ortega started the 
striking opening chords which instantly set the mood for the performance to come. Tosca 
is based on a play by Michel Sardou which was a vehicle for actress Sarah Bernhardt. The 
aging immortal Giuseppe Verdi wished he could have set it to music but Giacomo Puccini 
did! And this, his fifth opera, was one for the history books!

In the opera world, some performances are preceded by opera" buzz". For the  
performance attended by this writer, it was about the tenor, José Heredia, who played the 
role of Mario Carvaradossi, a painter. Mr. Heredia's singing of "Recondita armonia" was 
sung with sweetness and ringing power. This was a "full lyric" voice with a Pavarottian 
shimmer, sparkle and a very secure foundation. His jealousy duet with Tosca was done 
with humor and elan and a beautiful arched and cavernous upper register.

In Act Two, Cavaradossi (Heredia's) defiance of Scarpia and his lackeys was strong and 
his cries of "Vittoria, vittoria!", at the news that the Napoleonic forces had won a victory, 
rang through the theatre. In the final act his exquisite singing of "E lucevan le stelle" was 
opera magic. His spinning the notes, polishing the silverware so to speak, was of the 
highest order. The tragic lamentation of his final phrase won the hearts of the audience. 
No "grandstanding" -  just singing "on the word" and articulating it with sweetness and 
fervor.

The final duet "O dolci mani" was a true heavenly blend, their voices bouncing off the 
walls with ardor and hope. Cavaradossi died well. My question is, did Mario Cavaradossi 
know that this "mock" execution was really going to be his death? He did not trust 
Scarpia.

The Tosca of the evening was soprano Megan Nielson. I was impressed with her YouTube 
offerings, but seeing and hearing her in person was vital and indelible. Her singing in the 
jealousy duet with her lover Cavaradossi was exceptional. Her combination of coyness 
and flare ups were adroitly handled and there were sudden vocal bursts of pure, almost 
Wagnerian gold. Tosca's emergence from intimidated to defiant was gradual:  she simply 
"could not and would not take it anymore!"  When all seemed lost, her prayerful singing 
often on her knees of the famed aria "Vissi d'arte" was beautifully done. The top note 
"Signore" preceding the "Così" was ravishing. Tosca's seeing and seizing the knife and her 
stabbing of Scarpia who was imploding with lust, giving him a bloody sampling of "Tosca's 
kiss." Her telling him to choke on his own blood as he begged for help was riveting. 
Tosca's removal of the "safe conduct" papers for Cavaradossi was eerily heart pounding. 
Placing the candles on each side of Scarpia's dead body and dropping the crucifix on his 
chest with the snare drum roll in the background, was gripping. Ms. Nielson's dramatic 
utterance of "E avanti a lui, tremava tutta Roma" was snarled with sarcasm and dark 
sounding chest voice. Her red cape slithering as she left to find her Mario was another 
fine example of operatic gesture.

In the final act, Tosca's relating the entire affair with some powerful notes led to their 
duet "O dolci mani". Ms. Nielson's blending and soaring tones were matched by her tenor 
José Heredia as they "shook the rafters" of the theatre. His death, her shock followed by 
her leap and singing of meeting Scarpia before God was unforgettable. ("O Scarpia, 
avanti a Dio")

The role of Scarpia was in the hands and voice of Peter Hakjoon Kim. The role of the evil, 
lustful chief of Police Baron Scarpia suited him like a glove. His strong flexible baritone 
allowed him to put fear in the hearts of the beholders. His entrance in the Church of 
Sant'Andrea della Valle while the children and Sacristan were frolicking was worthy of the 
great actor  Charles Laughton.  His "Un tal baccano in chiesa" knocked you right out of 
your seat. His seeing Tosca, still smarting of jealousy, set his innards on fire. The 
religious procession that follows has Scarpia singing of his passion and lust for Tosca, 
vowing as he crosses himself that he would renounce God to posses Tosca. Kim's singing 
reached dazzling heights as he stretches the vocal envelope to soar to the heavens from 
his hellish feelings. In the second act at the Palazzo Farnese, Scarpia is in full command. 
He demands the whereabouts of political prisoner Angelotti and has Cavaradossi tortured. 
Cavaradossi's screams are unbearable to Tosca who relents.

Scarpia's singing of "Ha più forte sapore" and "Gia...Mi dicon venal" explains his desires 
to cruelly conquer, lust without love, possession and dominance, filling oneself with wine 
and women. His battles with Tosca  and the images of his sadism and cruelty and his 
ultimate demise at her hand made for great theater! Mr. Kim's voice had a wonderful 
thrust to it and he can raise the decimal levels very well or sing lugubriously softly when 
needed. Bravo for Kim!  A Scarpia we loved to hate. His "comeuppance" at her hand was 
most satisfactory.

Angelotti, a political prisoner was ably played by Luis Alvarado. His basso was smooth 
and pleasing but a bit more desperation would have rounded out his character.

John Schenkel portrayed the Sacristan with great Italianate flair, his buffo baritone tones 
vividly portrayed comedy and drama, joy and fear, religiosity and mischief.

Spoletta, Scarpia's agent, lackey and factotum was played with spidery assurance by 
Reuven Aristigueta Senger. Senger's insinuating tenor and total compliance made him a 
Goebbel's to Scarpia's Hitler. Even Scarpia's slapping him was accepted with a sense of 
joy that he would soon redeem himself. He was Igor to Dr. Frankenstein. When it is 
discovered that Scarpia has been killed and Tosca in flight jumps to her death, Spoletta 
does the sign of the cross. For whom? Himself? Tosca? Scarpia? The world as he knew it? 
The versatile Senger also played the part of the Judge.

Rick Agster was an efficient, cool Sciarrone. His plangent bass served as comfort food for 
the corrupt Baron Scarpia who needed efficient cruelty from his lackeys  like roses need 
rain. 

Jonathan R. Green was both the jailer and Roberti. His sonorous baritone calling of Mario 
Cavaradossi's name before the execution helped create the somber mood.

Nomi Barkan was the off stage Shepard boy who sings a mournful song to the tone poem 
interlude at the start of the final act. Her alto voice was like a gentle breeze midst the 
bells and dawn.

Principal conductor Gregory Ortega kept the 33 splendid musicians of the Regina 
Orchestra at white hot inspiration. Scarpia's entrance music in the first act was heart 
pounding and the fortissimo finale thrilled. 

Special praise to the Barkan family. Diana Barkan on the violin, Dimitri Barkan on the 
oboe and their children Nomi Barkan age 9 and Shelley Barkan age 16 sharing the role of 
the Shepherd boy, and Vladimir Kozlov, violist, the children’s grandfather. Congratulations 
to the new concertmaster Christopher Joyal, Richard Paratley on the flute and Alex 
Negruta on clarinet. The period costumes (Circa 1800) by Marcia Kresge were marvelous.  
Scarpia's powdered wig and elegant attire, Tosca's red brocade gown, Cavaradossi's blood 
stained apparel, and the soldiers uniforms were all evocative and striking.

Andrea Calabrese's make up was subtle and never garish. The supertitles by Linda 
Cantoni were very helpful.  

Tyler Learned was the Technical Director and again demonstrated mastery of his craft. 
The talented Wayne Olsen did the striking graphics.

The sets were traditional with the blue and white Madonna statue, the stark crucifix, 
Cavaradossi's lovely portrait (by Richard Paratley) of the Marchesa Attavanti as Mary 
Magdalene and the Palazzo Farnese with its unseen torture chambers, luxury and 
splendor. 

The "Te Deum" had the priests, altar boys, and nuns flooding the stage with fervor and 
color. During the intermission we also saw veteran chorus singer, the delightful Cathy 
Greco serving cookies and coffee in her nun's garb! Kudos to the Chorus especially in the 
almost surreal "Te Deum" in Act One.

The final act with its grim prison walls and jail cell evoked the tragic conclusion like  
poison hor doeuvres before the last meal. These were all by the hand and mind of Linda 
Lehr who was the brilliant stage director as well. The stage was never cluttered and the 
action flowed beautifully. The "Te Deum" scene and Tosca's  leap from a side panel are 
enshrined in memory! The realistic canon shot and gunshot sounds were remarkably clear 
and life like! This was a Tosca to cherish in every way!

We chatted with the Cavaradossi, José Heredia and his proud mother and his sponsor and 
vocal coach Tamie Laurance, also with soprano Samantha DiCapio, innovative composer 
Julian de la Chica and soprano Rachel Hippert known for their Brooklyn loft Bed-Stuy 
soirees.

Then it was off to nearby Casa Vieja restaurant where we dined with our friends and 
fellow opera lovers. Lourdes and staff made us feel at home with their delicious Mexican 
food.

The Regina Opera will present Donizetti's delightful comedy L'Elisir d'amore in May. 
Thanks to Francine Garber-Cohen producer, President of Regina Opera and Maestro Alex 
Guzman, Vice President and all who preserve the great art of opera at its best for both 
old and young at Brooklyn's unique Regina Opera!

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