TOSCA Opera Review: : Free All Political Prisoners! Free Leonard, Mumia, Mario, Cesare & Floria!
It never fails to amaze me how what we see on stage or screen often reflects what’s going on in the real world, aka “out there in TVLand.” For instance, I previously pointed out how LA Opera’s January/ February production of Mozart’s 18th century The Abduction from the Seraglio, largely set in Turkey, mirrored today’s ongoing debate over Islamic extremism versus so-called “moderate Muslims.”
Now, hard on the heels of Bill O’Reilly’s (long overdue) ouster from Fox News, Giacomo Puccini’s 1900 opera Tosca is being performed on the boards of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion through May 13. And you don’t have to be a clinical psychologist like Dr. Wendy Walsh to analyze the opera’s theme of sexual harassment and how it relates to scandals regarding the alleged mistreatment of women (purportedly including Dr. Wendy) by O’Reilly, as well as Fox’s terminated gauleiter, Roger Ailes, plus the pussy-grabber-in-chief, Donald Trump (who, but of course, defended both of his fellow accused abusers - isn’t it clear how rightwing politics favoring the rich and powerful fits together with abusive treatment of women? It’s all of a piece.).
Meanwhile, back at the review:
In the three-act Tosca, the title character, Floria Tosca (Illinois soprano Sondra Radvanovsky reprises the role she first performed for LA Opera in 2013), is a renowned opera singer in Italy during the Napoleonic era (soprano Melody Moore plays the part on May 13).
The Napoleonic Wars form the backdrop of this tragedy, as republican ideals derived from the French Revolution threaten the powers-that-be in Rome, which has been under the thumb of the reactionary, hapless Hapsburgs, those royal assholes who put the “nasty” into dynasty. Political prisoner Cesare Angelotti (Tennessee bass-baritone Nicholas Brownlee) busts out of the big house at Castel Sant’Angelo (a cylindrical building built circa 135 AD that’s one of Rome’s most famous landmarks) and according to a plan flees to the Church of Sant’Andrea Delle Valle.
There, the painter Mario Cavaradossi (Florida tenor Russell Thomas) is working on a painting of Mary Magdalene. Mario agrees to hide Cesare, who had been imprisoned by the notorious Scarpia (portrayed April 22, 27 and 30 by Italian baritone Ambrogio Maestri, on May 2, 5 and 7 by Nawlins bass-baritone Greer Grimsely and on May 13 by South Korean baritone Kihun Yoon), a relentless law and order bloodhound who is to opera what Inspector Javert, of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables (Les Mis), is to literature (and Broadway). Under the guise of worshipping the famous Floria goes to the church to visit her lover Mario. When Scarpia enters, she becomes ensnared in his manhunt for the escapee.
The tyrannical Scarpia imprisons and tortures Mario in another of the production’s nods to events taking place beyond the confines of the august Dorothy Chandler, where excessive use of force by police against African Americans is a major issue generating protests by Black Lives Matter and others. Russell Thomas is African American, so even in the rarefied operatic world a brother can’t catch a break!
To prevent Mario’s execution, Scarpia gives the beautiful opera diva an ultimatum that O’Reilly would allegedly be familiar with: Floria must have sex with the despicable police chief or Mario will face the firing squad. To avoid robbing those unfamiliar with Tosca - based on Victorien Sardou’s play, with the opera’s libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica - of the joy of surprise, I’ll stop describing the story here in order not to disclose plot spoilers.
Recommended for You
The production’s performances are top notch - Thomas’ rendition of “Strange Harmony” (“Recondita armonia”), like Radvanovsky’s warbling of the aria “Love and Music” (“Vissi d’arte”), rocked the Chandler’s rafters, earning well-deserved ovations. Conductor James Conlon and chorus director Grant Gershon (who conducts the final performance on May 13) do justice to Puccini’s rich, sonorous score. From solo to mass scenes, the opera is well-directed by Englishman John Caird in his LA Opera debut.
Scotswoman Bunny Christie reprises her scenery and costumes from LA Op’s 2013 Tosca, helping to set both the time and place. The sets are truly exquisite and effective, while Duane Schuler’s lighting enhances the action and is awards-worthy. The sold out opening night audience gave the cast and crew a rousing standing ovation during the curtain calls for LA Opera’s final production of the season onstage at the venerable Chandler.
Some may disdain opera as old fashioned, but with its themes of political prisoners, republicanism (the Danton/Marat, not GOP kind) and sexual harassment, Puccini’s masterpiece remains, alas, all too familiar to and relevant for 21st century audiences. Thankfully, today we have bold women like Anita Hill, Dr. Wendy, Lisa Bloom, Gloria Allred, et al, bravely standing up against sexual predators - and their artistic archetype, but of course, is this opera’s courageous heroine, Floria Tosca.
Tosca will be performed Thursday, April 27, May 2, May 5 and May 13 at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays April 30 and May 7 at 2:00 p.m. at L.A. Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90012.
LA Opera returns with the West Coast premiere of Thumbprint June 15, 16, 17 and 18 at REDCAT, at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, 631 West 2nd Street, Los Angeles 90012
Film historian/reviewer Ed Rampell is co-presenting Esther Shub’s documentary The Fall of the Romanovs on Friday, 7:30 p.m., April 28, 2017 at The L.A. Workers Center, 1251 S. St. Andrews Place, L.A., CA 90019. This is part of the ongoing “Ten Films That Shook the World” series celebrating the centennial of the Russian Revolution, taking place on the fourth Friday of each month through November. For info: email@example.com.