|The tables turn at the climax of Tosca.|
|The parapet in Rome from which Tosca meets her doom.|
Not that actual politics matter much in the hothouse atmosphere of Tosca - they're just a means to highly dramatic ends; the final suicide only arrives after two murders, a near-rape, and several scenes of torture (below). And fortunately, the BLO production doesn't push its "updating" to any obvious Peter-Sellars-esque political morals, either; director David Lefkowich often seemed happy to effectively block his action, then bask in the atmosphere provided by the funereal grandeur of Peter Rice's smashing sets, lit with the burnished rays of a perpetual sunset by Paul Hackenmueller (one glance at these designs, and you knew poor Tosca was doomed).
Even though, of course, she's innocent of everything (except a sudden, murderous impulse which you can hardly blame her for). This nihilistic theme, of helpless innocence pointlessly punished, was a new one in opera - and a new one on the stage in general - and it still packs a punch, particularly in the moving performance of Jill Gardner in the title role. Ms. Gardner possesses a rich, but not particularly individual, soprano, and her rendition of the famous "Vissi d'arte" was hampered by blocking (she was half-prone, "imprisoned," if you will, on a bed) that provided a striking stage image but must have given her very little room for breath support. But Gardner is also a truly wonderful stage actress - one of the best stage actresses I've seen cross a Boston operatic stage - and her Tosca was always both amusingly vain and yet poignantly, vibrantly alive. And her sudden killing of Scarpia - you could see the mad inspiration dawn on her - chilled just as it should, while the famously macabre, guilt-ridden scene that follows she played to the absolute hilt. (In one of the production's few surprising flourishes, she threw away with a shudder the crucifix that Tosca usually places in penance on Scarpia's corpse.)
|Tosca's lover, Cavaradossi, is brutalized by the minions of Scarpia (far right). Photos by Jeffrey Dunn|
In that last act the production seemed to stumble a bit - the blocking seemed more tentative, and Ms. Gardner didn't seem as shaken by her ordeal as she might be; moreover the music sometimes flowed over insufficient stage business. Nevertheless, the music was gripping all the same; the sound from the pit - under the baton of Conductor Andrew Bisantz - was always darkly robust (Bisantz did a similarly impressive job, in a very different vein, with last season's Turn of the Screw). It seemed that in this remarkably strong and solid production, any momentary weakness was balanced by a different strength; no wonder the crowd, clearly hungry for this kind of shot of pure operatic adrenaline, gave the cast a sustained standing ovation. A year or two ago, when I began writing that Boston Lyric Opera had turned an artistic corner and would (or should) become the dominant force on the operatic scene, I got several ridiculing emails. Now, after a series of productions as strong as Tosca, that seems to be the conventional wisdom.