Tuesday, February 9, 2016

NYCO Strikes Back with a Classic Done Right

Puccini’s Tosca
NYCO Renaissance
Rose Theater
January 24, 2016

Tosca pulls out all the stops.
Photo credit: Sarah Shatz
NYCO Renaissance’s recent production of Puccini’s Tosca was a revival, a renewal and a rebirth in many senses. It was a return for the company on a number of symbolic levels; a return of the opera that the company debuted with back in 1944. It was also the return of the most classic production of this opera. NYCO Renaissance obtained from Casa Ricordi the exclusive North American rights to re-create Adolf Hohenstein’s set and costume designs, the very same ones of the original debut performance of Tosca in its 1900 Rome premiere in Rome. All of which makes this the perfect opportunity to reflect on the value of a truly traditional production for all the purists out there.

Do not go gentle into the dying of the light.
Photo credit: NYTimes
Expectations were low after all of the lukewarm if not downright negative press I had read about it. But I mean really. What’s wrong with people? The January 24 show was great. Maybe it was just our cast or maybe at the end of the run things finally started to click. Because it was there. On the last night of the run, they pulled out all the stops.

NYCO Renaissance’s was a solid Tosca. The scenes were mostly comprised of beautifully painted backdrops oozing art deco charm. Costumes were traditional but together. The Te Deum in Act I was done right and truer to libretto than the way the current production at the Met stages it. And the Act III sets here actually resembled the actual Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome even if they placed it in the wrong side of the river. At least they gave us the Roman skyline. At the Met they don’t even give us a peekaboo view of St. Peter’s. There is something to be said for the classic approach no matter how meager the means. On the whole, it was a a very satisfying Tosca I really enjoyed. Sometimes one does not need to reinvent the wheel but just get the key stuff right, and a nostalgic wink to an opera’s first production is just a wonderful homage.

The NYCO Renaissance orchestra under the baton of maestro Pacien Mazzagatti did justice to the sweeping Puccini score. Both Scarpia and Cavaradossi were Italian and oh what a difference it makes when native speakers sing in their native language. The whole thing has a more fluid and refreshing vibe. Baritone Carlo Guelfi was an excellent Scarpia. He had a bitter snarly edge to his singing that was perfect for the character. Cavaradossi’s E lucevan le stelle (by solid tenor Raffaele Abete) left me singing this little ear candy ditty for the next several days.

Tosca surveys the damage.
Photo credit: Sarah Shatz
Latonia Moore’s Tosca all in all was excellent too. She absolutely owned her big sequence with Scarpia in Act II. She has a tender force. Her sound encompasses both the vulnerability of a victim and the don’t-mess-with-me resolve of a fighter and a hero. Her Vissi d’arte was wonderfully moving it took me by surprise. She managed to make me look at this classic aria with fresh eyes. Even if she could use a few more Italian language articulation sessions with the great Lucy Tucker Yates, hers was a refreshing and solid soprano who delivered on the big emotional numbers required by her role.

The Rose Theater venue in the Time Warner Center has potential. The views at intermission are to die for. It’s all quintessential New York City with sweeping Central Park framed by buildings and on this particular night there was even a golden full moon hung low in the sky just over the rooftops. However, some of the logistics can and should be improved. Patrons should be able to print their own tickets – which wasn’t an option when we purchased – and in any event no one should have to line up for over 20 minutes for Will Call before the show. That’s hardly a civilized way to start an evening at the opera.

With nothing left, the leading lady bids farewell.
Photo credit: Sarah Shatz
But to get back to the basics, let’s be honest. Opera is what we’re here for. The music is what really matters. And tonight the three principal singers sounded great. They brought all the big emotions. Tosca’s Visse d’arte captivated me. Cavaradossi’s E lucevan le stelle moved me to tears. Tosca’s big third act exit took my breath away. The production was classic but polished. And while I have never particularly cared for Tosca, I had a ball revisiting it. After all the critical trash talking in the press, on this final night of the run it seems clear: an opera for the critics it might not be, but, remaining true to its roots, the NYCO Renaissance might be an opera for the people after all!

Considering NYCO's past, we’re eager to see what their next steps will be.  

Lui & Lei

The revival of a classic: Purists eat your heart out!
Image credit: NYCO Renaissance
Sets by Adolf Hohenstein.
Image credit: NYCO Renaissance
Scarpia's salon.
Image credit: NYCO Renaissance

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