NSO’s Tosca

Deception. Rebellion. Jealousy. Betrayal. Lust. Torture. Murder. Suicide. Catholicism. It’s all here. I finally saw Tosca!

It was an opera concert, but honestly was as fully staged as you could expect it to be and still be in a concert hall rather than a theatre or opera house. Before I discuss much else, let’s get some of the credits out of the way, for the day that I saw:

  • Conductor- 呂紹嘉 Shao-Chia Lü
  • Director – 林懷民 Lin Hwai-Min
  • Tosca – 左涵瀛 – Hanying Tso-Petanaj
  • Scarpia – Lucio Gallo
  • Cavaradossi – 鄭皓允 Ho-Yoon Chung
  • Angelotti – 羅俊穎 Julian Lo
  • Sacristan, Sciarrone – 趙方豪
  • Spoletta – 湯發凱 Fa-Kai Tang

The production was… well, we’ll get to the production shortly.

First, let’s talk about the orchestra. I’ve never seen Tosca live, and obviously don’t know it like I know, say, a Mahler symphony, so I’m not listening for specific moments or arias or whatever. That being said, I hadn’t heard the NSO (or anyone) in months; it was a rare, long stretch of quiet for me, with no concerts, and so I was curious to see if anything had changed noticeably in the intervening period.

The NSO sounded spectacular. It was an obviously less than ideal setup, with the maestro conducting a misshapen orchestra. He stood in front of a string orchestra, with all the winds and percussion in a separate section to his right, behind cellos. The acoustics are obviously very different when the ensemble shares a stage with the performers, but overall, everything sounded very solid. Tosca and Scarpia absolutely stole the show, and the orchestra itself was brilliant enough that I’d have wanted to go the following night just to see the different cast and enjoy it again.

Tosca is obviously a dramatic Italian story, full of irony and literary elements. Every story benefits from a truly great bad guy, and the entire performance, to my eyes and ears, centered around Scarpia; Gallo did a phenomenal job at being the kind of guy you love to hate, and our leading lady for Tosca captured the depth of what I perceive a real-life Tosca would be like if I were to meet her.

I feel all this, really, is almost a given: the NSO played wonderfully, I’m familiar with most of the names on the roster, and they are all solid performers I’m delighted to see on stage. The one element that is new and unfamiliar, which I’ll harp about since it’s something I do have more of an opinion on.

I really do understand why we wouldn’t get the typical, expected fin de siècle costumes and stage design, and I’m all for modernized, even anachronistic staging. I’m also very much behind the simplified, pared down design that the director offers us here, which affords the production the opportunity to go on the road and be presented in smaller areas throughout the country. I absolutely love that idea, to be able to perform in other, even less ideal settings and get more mileage and more joy out of this production. Love it.

What I didn’t as much love was where the design landed in a complicated Venn diagram involving circles labeled with terms like modern, minimalist, etc. We saw a minimalist, an almost harshly and yet very beautifully minimalist, staging of Beethoven’s Fidelio a few years back, stark and sharp and handsome.

And I understand the simplified, more straightforward stage presentation, but I’ll say, if I’m looking for something to criticize, that there was a little bit of a disconnect with the design, mostly costumes. Angelotti wore a hoodie, not a cloak or a tunic, but a legit hoodie, while Scarpia was dressed sharply in a handsome, modern-day suit. To be a little harsh, some of the elements seemed like shortcuts, the kind of decisions that a high school production might make logistically or economically rather than aesthetically. The guards, Scarpia’s minions, were decked out in all black, trench coats and maybe even leather gloves, if I remember, and that was very effective, but I do feel there was some more room for creativity and intentional design rather than just simplifying.

That’s my criticism. It’s one of the only things in question for an opera, or rather… up to such wide variety of interpretation. If you know the piece, you will obviously notice some interpretive elements of the conductor or performers, but as a unit, an overall package, the stage design is such a big element, with so much potential, and I do feel there was a bit more opportunity to do something really marvelous and convincing, even within the confines of what amounts to a mobile show.

That’s all. I’d welcome a dozen more productions like this of Turandot, La Traviata, Aida, Il Trovatore, Barber, Figaro, Don Giovanni, and on and on, but they are still, for obvious reasons, less than ideal(ist) stage productions.

It’ll be yet sometime before we have any more opera around these parts, so I hate to be critical of this one, but I do hope to see more in the future. Stay tuned for more belated posts, and thanks for reading.

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