Everyone dies. It's opera. So no big surprises there. You don’t go to the opera to be shocked by a sudden plot twist. You go to the opera to hear beautiful music sung by immensely talented performers, and in that sense, the Dallas Opera’s production of Giacomo Puccini’s tragic opera, Tosca, delivered.
The curtain opens on the vivid and ornate Church of Sant’Andrea Della Valle. The scenery and costumes designed by Ulisse Santicchi were dazzling, with only a small malfunction involving the movable fireplace in Act 2. The Children’s Chorus gave voice to sweet innocence and, as usual, Chorus Master Alexander Rom had the chorus in its proper place when at the end of Act 1 everyone gathered on the second floor of the elaborately staged church.
At times in Act 1, the voice of Dale Travis as the sacristan is sometimes lost beneath the powerful Puccini score. But that's OK because in Tosca the music is the star, with beautiful moments when the singers are silenced. Conducted by Emmanuel Villaume, the music shines.
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In Act 1, soprano Emily Magee, in the title role of Floria Tosca, jealously accuses her lover Mario Cavaradossi, tenor Giancarlo Monsalve, of infidelity as he paints a portrait of a blonde woman in the church. The two are a bit awkward as lovers bantering and flirting with one another. However, both come to life in Act 2 when things turn dark for them. In Act 2, Magee delivered an ardent performance of the opera’s best known aria, "Vissi d’ arte," as the devout Tosca laments a life devoted to art and love. When she sings of her despair at being forsaken by God, her grief is palpable. Magee turns fiery as she bargains for the life of her lover and boldly ends her torment by plunging a dagger into the heart of the perverse Baron Scarpia.
Robust bass Raymond Aceto’s chilling interpretation of the vile Scarpia was enhanced as he entered his cold blue palace in Act 2 and removed his wig. Aceto is a menacing sexual predator prowling the stage, ready to devour the vulnerable Tosca. Aceto’s strong and powerful voice and his convincing acting make him a formidable Scarpia.
After Act 2’s nasty encounter with the lecherous Scarpia, the crystalline, pitch-perfect voice of the shepherd boy, Campbell S. Collins, III, singing "Io de' sospiri" ("I give you sighs") refreshes as the curtain opens on Act 3. Act 3 also brings Cavaradossi’s remembrance of his beloved Tosca, "E lucevan le stelle” ("And the stars shone"). Tenor Monsalve’s voice is rounded and full, his performance emotive yet real.
In the Dallas Opera’s production of the tragic Tosca, the voices of the three main characters have equal opportunity to take center stage, but the spotlight shines brightly on the music. And even as the tragedy dramatically wipes out characters one by one, it's the music that gives Puccini's opera life even a century later.