“I lived for my art, I lived for love,” Floria Tosca sang, heartbroken, to a Madonna statue in Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca last Saturday night. Conducted by James Conlon and directed by John Caird, Tosca returned to Los Angeles to tell a classic tale about the sacrifices for love and liberty.
Set against a backdrop of civil unrest, Tosca is about Tosca and her lover, artist Cavaradossi, and their respective sacrifices in order to do what is right. The villain, Baron Scarpia, chief of police, uses Tosca’s jealousy and insecurity about her and Cavaradossi’s relationship to track down Cesare Angelotti, an Italian Republican who has just escaped from jail and is currently getting aid from Cavaradossi. What ensues is the heartbreaking tale of Tosca being torn between love and justice — will she give herself up to Scarpia in order to save Cavaradossi’s life? Will Cavaradossi live, even if the compromise is made? Who will come out alive or dead in this tale of sacrifice?
LA Opera’s performance of Tosca captures the heart of the story beautifully through its exceptional talent and design. Puccini’s classic begs for a certain level of expertise when it comes to capturing the emotions of each character because story arcs like Tosca’s are complex and layered, and they need to be revealed smoothly within the performance. LA Opera carefully crafted the opera’s narrative, given its backdrop of the 1800s Habsburg dynasty in Italy and religious motifs and overtones.
Sondra Radvanovsky’s return to the eponymous role of Tosca is thrilling. Already known for her work as Tosca in the LA Opera’s production in 2013, Radvanovsky’s experience with the complexities of Tosca’s character and songs shines through in her bold performance. Her control of voice is spectacular, enhancing the emotions of the scenes with her shifts from strong, loud vibratos to soft, graceful notes. After singing to the Madonna statue in front of her, lamenting about the decision to leave Cavaradossi and spare his life, Radvanovsky received a long applause with a couple of standing ovations, well-deserved for her emotionally stirring acting and superb voice control. Radvanosky captures the duality of Tosca elegantly — the boldness of Tosca’s passion for Cavaradossi is carefully contrasted against the soft, vulnerable love she has for a man that has truly loved her back.
Russell Thomas, who plays Cavaradossi, is spectacular as well. Thomas’ voice is as passionate as the personality of the painter, and he is incredibly emotive in his body language, adding to the show’s flow with his challenges against Scarpia and his tender embraces of Tosca. His vibrato is strong and powerful, much like Cavaradossi’s courage in the face of death and his passion in the face of love. When Thomas and Radvanosky sing together in perfect harmony, the entire theater becomes energized.
James Conlon and his orchestra do not disappoint. Their fantastic execution of Puccini’s stirring music help guide the audience, amplifying emotions of characters and alluding to plot points. They are actors in this performance, leading the audience deeper into the story. The most fantastic example is when Cavaradossi is alone in prison, writing his final letter to Tosca. Conlon and his orchestra perfectly execute the shift in the mood of the music; their change from the somber song to a love theme helps the audience realize that Tosca is coming, and when she walks through the door, their reunion becomes even sweeter.
Major props also go to the set design of Bunny Christie. The use of the stage’s space is fantastic, and the intricate details of the designs enhance the narrative while also creating a sense of realism. Christie’s church looks as if it belongs with the ancient churches that fill the streets of Rome, and the framing of a Madonna statue in Scarpia’s apartment after Tosca’s first sacrifice beautifully enhances the atmosphere and amplifies Tosca’s actions. The layers of the set design make the opera even more accessible to the audience, and with each bloody curtain drop, the audience goes deeper into Tosca’s life.
LA Opera’s Tosca perfectly encapsulates the passions that drive the opera, thanks to the incredible talent behind it. Tosca’s return to Los Angeles is well-wanted and well-deserved.