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REVIEW: Sumptuous Tosca Muddles Imagery, Makes Out Musically

Cavaradossi (Leonardo Capalbo) walks to his fate. Photo by Dan Norman.

If anyone was worried when Minnesota Opera announced that Kelly Kaduce was stepping into the title role of Tosca with just a week’s notice, they needn’t have bothered. Kaduce was in full form on opening night, a dazzling presence on stage as she delivered both playful and heart-wrenching musical lines.

Note: This is a review of Cast A of Minnesota Opera’s 2016 production of Tosca. Cast A performs March 12, 17, 19, 24, and 26; Cast B performs March 13, 18, and 20.

It’s been 11 years since Minnesota Opera last staged Puccini’s Tosca; the current production is the company’s fourth mounting of the work (previous productions took place in the 2005-2006, 1997-1998, and 1991-1992 seasons). This incarnation features set and costumes by Lorenzo Cutùli, stage direction by Andrea Cigni, and an orchestra under the baton of Anne Manson. The visual look is quite sumptuous, with interesting features like a giant golden corona and a forced perspective sculpture that imitates gazing up at the Castel Sant’Angelo’s statue of the Archangel Michael from below; the Act II backdrop is quite beautiful to behold.

Scarpia (Stephen Powell) contemplates the trappings of power and the perks of suppressing democracy.
Scarpia (Stephen Powell) contemplates the trappings of power and the perks of suppressing democracy. Photo by Dan Norman.

The experience of opera can be almost as much about the costumes and sets as the music, about the social experience of seeing and being seen. This is where the staging runs afoul of history: the choice of soldiers’ uniforms clearly grounds the staging in the Risorgimento period. This inverts’ the Romans’ relationship with the reigning Napoleon (making several references to the political background confusing, to say the least) and makes some of the clerical costuming choices in the Act I finale simply anachronistic and wrong. Cutùli’s costuming is undeniably exquisite, but it does take after some of the more inaccurate elements of Franco Zeffirelli’s famous Tosca staging for the Met and combines them with a few other fish out of water. Is it pretty to look at? Yes. Does it gravitas? Some. If you know a bit of history, is it as annoying as Selma‘s gross mischaracterizations of historical figures and events? No, it’s not that bad. If you don’t know what a zucchetto is and who is allowed to wear it at what periods in history, these anachronisms will probably pass over your head…but if you do, many of the opera’s symbols are not in alignment.


Scarpia (Stephen Powell) incites Tosca (Kelly Kaduce)'s jealousy and insecurity.
Scarpia (Stephen Powell) incites Tosca (Kelly Kaduce)’s jealousy and insecurity. Photo by Dan Norman.

So what about that music? Manson’s direction is finely paced and draws out some lovely moments during Leonardo Capalbo (as Cavaradossi)’s moving “E lucevan la stelle,” which was so beautiful and gripping that it moved some in the audience to tears. Stephen Powell’s deliciously evil Scarpia was thrilling throughout, but especially in “Va, Tosca.” His baritone voice has a dark, rich tint to the vibrato that is especially pleasant to listen to. Kaduce veered into belting for some lower passages, but no one seemed to mind; “Vissi d’arte” was exquisite.

An unexpectedly weak musical element element was part of the orchestration for “Va, Tosca” – the organ sounded positively anemic. (No organist or other keyboard player was listed in the program, either.) Given the scale of the staging, this a surprising decision for something that is traditionally quite lush and is plainly marked as the loudest instrument in the score. Without Powell’s commanding presence, this would have been a significant issue, but hearing him sing more prominently is an acceptable tradeoff.

That’s a wrap.

  • Watch: Kelly Kaduce sings “Vissi d’arte” from Tosca:

Minnesota Opera’s Tosca plays through March 26.

Basil Considine