Even though two of the three lead singers canceled, the Aspen Music
Festival triumphed with its semi-staged presentation of Tosca thanks
to the one holdover, tenor Alfredo Portilla as Cavaradossi, fill-in
soprano Lisa Daltirus in the title role, and especially conductor David
Zinman, who ought to conduct opera more.
Daltirus Tosca Alfredo Portilla as
opera in a 2,050-seat space designed for symphonic and chamber works
puts the emphasis on the music. Some of us think that's a pretty good
idea, especially when the musical values are as deliciously achieved
as they were here. Zinman drew extraordinarily fine playing from the
Festival Orchestra, the ensemble comprising principals from leading
orchestras (including a few from opera orchestras, including the Met's)
filled out with select students from Aspen Music School. Zinman got
the big dramatic gestures and most of the small ones, exhibiting a flair
for Puccini's shifting tempos, making them sound as natural as a heartbeat.
Carol Vaness was originally scheduled to sing the title role, but illness
sidelined her after her arrival in Aspen the weekend prior. Baritone
James Morris also got to Aspen and participated in a few rehearsals
before succumbing to an illness. Daltirus arrived on Monday in time
for all the rehearsals as Tosca. Louis Otey was already the understudy
her first offstage utterance of "Mario! Mario!" Daltirus was impressive.
She has a purity to her voice, something short of a full spinto at the
top but lacking nothing in creaminess and clarity. Her chest voice has
power, a requirement for any dramatic Tosca. Her acting was especially
good in Act I and Act III, conveying the contradictions of her relationship
with Cavaradossi and her fear and revulsion of Scarpia. In Act II, she
could have done more with the extended business over Scarpia's corpse,
but the push-pull with Scarpia came off splendidly and "Vissi d'arte"
not only was musically satisfying but dramatic as well. This is a singer
on the brink of stardom.
his scenes with Tosca, Portilla, a natural lyric tenor, invested Cavaradossi
with a sweetness reminiscent at times of José Carreras. When
he needed it, he could also call up enough squillo to give his "Vittoria,
vittoria!" plenty of ring in Act II. "Recondita armonia"
set the tone with elegant, lyrical singing, but his finest moments came
in Act III. The rapport with Zinman and the orchestra was palpable as
Portilla caressed "E lucevan le stelle" (set up beautifully by
Joaquin Valdapeñas' gorgeous clarinet solo), and the opening
phrases of "O dolci mani" couldn't have been more tender or moving.
Daltirus Tosca Louis Otey Scarpia
made Scarpia into the right combination of smarmy elegance and sheer
terror. He experienced some sort of vocal issue toward the end of Act
II, causing him to crack on several notes, but it seemed to be temporary
and he recovered to finish strong. He is a strapping man with a big
voice, though not quite big enough to power through the Te deum
in Act I. The confrontation with Tosca generated more than few sparks.
smaller roles were handled by students in the voice and opera program,
some of whom, like bass Yung-Bok Kim as the Sacristan and baritone Brian
Mulligan as the revolutionary-on-the-lam Angelotti, are already singing
professionally on major opera stages. Kim was especially good, investing
the Sacristan with a stooped walk, an appropriately testy personality
and a rich, focused bass.
staging was done by Edward Berkeley, who heads the opera programs at
Julliard and Aspen, his direction conveying the story and the personal
relationships as they develop rather than imposing directorial flagrances.
Berkeley is especially good at linking what the singers do on stage
with the music, often with subtle touches involving the way they react
to each other to set up the next line.
orchestra was positioned slightly off center, surrounded by raised platforms
for the singers to move around on. The production also made use of the
choir loft that wraps around the back and sides of the stage. Lighting
and a few props suggested the chiesa Sant'Andrea della Valle in Act
I, Scarpia's rooms at the Palazzo Farnese in Act II and the ramparts
of Castel Sant'Angelo in Act III.
was enough, especially with Zinman shaping a performance that gathered
Steiman will be writing regularly from the Aspen Music Festival through
its conclusion in mid August.
Daltirus Tosca Louis
Photos: Alex Irvin.