'Tosca' a killer 

Indianapolis Opera
Clowes Memorial Hall
March 14 and 16

Floria Tosca is an opera singer. She’s also a murderer. Mario Cavaradossi is a painter and Tosca’s lover. He gets shot to death. Cesare Angelotti is a political prisoner in hiding. Tosca reveals his hiding place and he is killed. Baron Scarpia is the evil Roman police chief. Tosca  stabs him to death. She is caught by Scarpia’s policemen after she discovers Cavaradossi’s death. Tosca jumps to her own death from a castle parapet.

Such is the toxic brew of treachery, mayhem and murder that inspired Giacomo Puccini’s 1900 opera Tosca — a case study in verismo, literally meaning “realism in art and literature.” Verismo came, at the turn of the 20th century, to refer to the operatic portrayal of intense, usually negative emotions and the acts they triggered — right on stage for all to see. And, after nine years, Indianapolis Opera presented Tosca again last weekend, following a seven-month IO production dry spell since its last-September-mounted The Magic Flute.

The large Friday Clowes Hall turnout was rewarded with excellent singing by two of the principals: Soprano Stella Zambalis singing Tosca and tenor William Joyner singing Cavaradossi. Both delivered opulent, ample voices, filling the hall with their brand of verismo. Zambalis’ vocalism, in fact, more than made up for her slight heftiness, especially in her Act 2 aria, “Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore,” wherein she pleads with Scarpia to save Cavaradossi shortly before stabbing Scarpia to prevent his sexual advances.

Baritone Victor Benedetti cut a perfect figure for the sinister Scarpia with a black mustache and an outfit to match; the voice regrettably failed to dovetail with the image. Benedetti’s projection was weak, sometimes difficult to hear, the voice a bit gravelly and lacking ample vibrato. Bass David Swain in his dual role as Angelotti and a jailer projected better, but failed to resonate in the low registers.

None of the supporting cast — Mark Gilgallon as the Sacristan, Clayton Hilley singing Spoletta and Nathan Brown singing Sciarrone — offered any standout work, but all were certainly adequate. Young Halle Silverston — the only other female soloist in the production — sang an off-stage shepherd boy, beginning Act 3. Though only briefly involved (without appearing), Silverston caught my attention as having an especially promising voice.

F.M. Dana’s sets were dominated by scrims, in back of which considerable action was projected in shadow, including Tosca’s lethal jump at the opera’s end. A money saver perhaps, but Joachim Schamberger’s stage direction made it all work, all the characters perfectly placed, with the IO chorus and children’s chorus nicely handled. And once again, IO artistic director James Caraher was on the podium to conduct the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra convincingly.

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