MusicWeb International's Worldwide Concert and Opera Reviews

 Clicking Google advertisements helps keep MusicWeb subscription-free.


Other Links

Editorial Board

  • Editor - Bill Kenny
  • Deputy Editor - Bob Briggs
  • Founder - Len Mullenger

Google Site Search


Internet MusicWeb



Tosca Opens the 2009-2010 Season at Lyric Opera of Chicago: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of  Lyric Opera of Chicago, Sir Andrew Davis (conductor) Civic Opera House, Chicago, 26.9.2009 (JLZ)

Original Production: Franco Zeffirelli
Stage Director: Garnett Bruce
Set Designer: Renzo Mongiardino
Costume Designing: Marcel Escoffier
Lighting:  Christine Binder
Chorus Master - Donald Nally


Cesare Angelotti: Craig Irvin
Sacristan: Dale Travis
Mario Cavaradossi: Vladimir Galouzine
Floria Tosca: Deborah Voigt
Baron Scarpia: James Morris
Spoletta: John Easterlin
Sciarrone: Paula Corona
Shepherd: Angela Mannino
Jailer: Sam Handley

The Act 1 Set

With its familiar plot involving political intrigue, secret police, torture, hidden passion, and unyielding scorn, it is small wonder that Puccini’s Tosca remains popular over a century after its premiere in 1901. Combining all the elements from tragicgrand  opera, like the cathedral scene with which the first act ends, as well as the intimate settings associated with verismo, as in the penultimate scene between Tosca and Cavaradossi, the opera is prime material for a gala such as this opening of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2009-2010 season. Lyric drew on familiar names to celebrate the event and with Deborah Voigt as Tosca, Vladimir Galouzine as her lover Cavaradossi, James Morris as Scarpia and Sir Andrew Davis, conducting, it was indeed a festive occasion. This is the night in which Lyric celebrates both itself and its patrons, by decking the main lobby for an opening reception on a scale as grand as some of the operas in its repertoire. At a time when expenses are always into question, it was gracious to find plenty of appetizers before the first act, with smaller offerings during the intermissions. The crowd for this event dressed fittingly too, with many of its patrons in gowns and evening wear. If dressing formally is a measure of the respect for those you visit, Chicago’s audience paid deep and appropriate homage to Lyric Opera this evening.

The audience also celebrated Deborah Voigt in the title role, and the singer’s comments in the program pointed to her work on the character at Florida Grand Opera with Renata Scotto. In this sumptuous Zefirelli production Tosca is a commanding figure to whom even Scarpia sometimes defers. Voigt certainly brings vitality to the role, even if occasionally some of her notes seemed rather loud for the fine acoustics of the Civic Opera House. Despite this, one of her many fine moments was  the first-act duet with Galouzine, which showed off two great singers in the best possible light, despite a few pitch problems in the second and third acts. 

Deborah Voight (Tosca)  and James Morris (Scarpia)

As Cavaradossi, Galouzine delivered the role with a bright, forward sound although  he too, seemed at times unnecessarily loud in this house. That aside, his phrasing, placement of notes, and general articulation were exemplary, with some of Puccini’s most memorable tenor arias sung particularly well. He also paired nicely in the first act with Craig Irvin, the production’s Angelotti who displayed a welcome earnestness. His bass-baritone voice was splendidly resonant in this brief but critical role.

James Morris played Scarpia as a man more subtle than merely menacing. His interpretation of the role seems introspective in contrast to how some other baritones treat it and while such subtlety adds much to the moments in which Scarpia’s obsession with Tosca is fully on display, it is also equally important to emphasise the passages where Scarpia cruelly exploits his power as head of the secret police. Each of these aspects of Scarpia’s personality contribute to his attraction as a ruthless villain, since even after his death he continues to control Tosca and Cavaradossi. Morris’s portrayal did not seem sufficiently terrifying to make Tosca’s declaration at the end of the second act ring true, when she stands over his corpse, apostrophizing a man who once caused all Rome to tremble.

Dale Travis approached the role of the Sacristan with appropriate levity and clear diction as a fine foil to Cavaradossi’s intensity and Puccini’s intricate musical and textual counterpoint. Likewise, John Easterlin was also effective in his role as Spoletta, giving the role a nice definition of subservient and fearful viciousness. Most of all however, the Lyric Opera Chorus provided the tremendous first act Te Deum with a powerful and thrilling background to Scarpia’s dramatic declaration that Tosca has caused him to forget God. This was yet another affirmation of Chorus Master Donald Nally’s consummate skills.

Conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, the performance was a truly fine celebration of the new season and the star power of the house, clear in this production as well as the schedule for the months ahead. Unfortunately, a different kind of drama also entered the evening, with a tactful announcement by the Orchestra of contractual problems likely to result in shorter seasons in years to come. Given the momentum Lyric Opera has demonstrated in the past two decades, it would be very sad indeed if such rumors are borne out. With  the current season already under way, it is difficult to imagine that the typically enthusiastic responses of Chicago audiences provide any reason for Lyric to consider such a measure.

As things stand, those who visit the city in the Fall and Winter can rely on Lyric Opera for fine productions of exceptional operas.  The coming season is most promising with not only Gounod’s version of Faust but also a new production of Berlioz’s version, La damnation de Faust. The rest includes Ernani, with internationally recognized Verdians Sondra Radvanovsky and Salvatore Licitra, Katya Kabanova with Karita Mattila in the title role as well as L’elisir d’amore, and The Merry Widow. A reprise of Tosca in January with Violetta Urmana playing the heroine and Lucio Gallo as Scarpia is also scheduled. Let’s hope that the all contractual difficulties can be resolved quickly to preserve such distinguished programming for many years to come.

James L Zychowicz

Pictures © Dan Rest

Back to Top Page
Cumulative Index Page