Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn
milwaukeesfs

Skylight Opera Theatre, "Tosca"

Saturday evening, October 3rd, we went to the Broadway Theatre Center to see and hear the Skylight's new production of Puccini's "Tosca." It was generally considered to be a challenge to "scale down" this popular opera to fit the Skylight's small hall, but this isn't necessarily the case. Puccini tends to write big music for small casts, and "Tosca" is an example, with three major roles in Tosca, Scarpia, and Cavaradossi, a handful of supporting roles, and only one chorus at the end of the first act.

From a scenic standpoint, almost any stage is big enough to portray Scarpia's office in act Two. The section of battlements in Act Three doesn't have to be huge, which leaves the cathedral in Act One. The Skylight deftly got around that one by keeping the chorus offstage for the processional, leaving the visual focus on Scarpia.

Act One was where I had the biggest disagreement with the set design. The large painting Cavaradossi is working on is traditionally a saint if not the Madonna. The one used here was a dancing figure and looked more like a poster for the Moulin Rouge than anything found in a cathedral. Also, the bottom three feet of the painted canvas trailed on the floor and were casually walked on by both Cavaradossi and the Sacristan! (By the time Scarpia got around to treading on it, it wasn't as shocking.) Some of the best scene effects were done with lighting (designer Jason Fassl) in the same act, as, while Scarpia sings, "Tosca, you make me turn away from God!" a subtle shift alerts us that the panels screening the artist's work space form a cross looming over him.

The principal singers were all excellent, with all reviewers admiring Cassandra Aaron Black, who sang Floria Tosca with great power and passion. Her stage presence reminded me of Joan Sutherland. Reviews were more mixed for Chaz'men Williams-Ali as Cavaradossi and David Kravitz as Scarpia. We did not think that Williams-Ali's voice was too "light"; he sang with fine strength and expression. Kravitz was a lean and hungry, though sometimes genial, Scarpia and sang the role very well.

Kravitz may have been somewhat handicapped by his costume, which was described elsewhere as looking like a "Star Wars" villain (I'd have guessed "Buck Rodgers" myself--.) However, by the time we saw Tosca come on for the third act, it was clear the costume designs by Kristy Leigh Hall were intended to be symbolic, since her "traveling" outfit is an impractical but highly dramatic red evening gown that looks like it had been dipped in blood.

Although this was the largest orchestra that could be crammed into the Skylight's pit, it was still far smaller than the usual full symphony used to support Puccini, and it was occasionally, though seldom, evident that they were working hard to make up weight, notably at the end of the first act, when the brasses got a bit sharp in the very demanding processional.

A controversial decision that we had no problem with was to have most of the opera sung in English, as the Skylight usually does, but leave the best known arias in Italian. I thought this worked well and I got more out of some scenes, such as Tosca's second act dialog with Scarpia, than I usually do with supertitles.

All in all, a fine production of which the Skylight can be justly proud.

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Tags: opera, skylight
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