Sunday, June 03, 2012

TOSCA IN A TENT

TOSCA        NEW PRODUCTION
COLOGNE 
31 MAY 2012

© Sam H. Shirakawa
Musikalische Leitung Markus Stenz / Inszenierung Thilo Reinhardt / Bühne Paul Zoller / Kostüme Ulli Kremer / Licht Andreas Grüter / Dramaturgie Birgit Meyer / Chorleitung Andrew Ollivant

Floria Tosca Takesha Meshé Kizart 
Mario Cavaradossi  José Cura 
Baron Scarpia  Anthony Michaels-Moore 
Cesare Angelotti  Dennis Wilgenhof 
Der Mesner Tiziano Bracci 
Spoletta  Martin Koch 
Sciarrone  Sévag Tachdjian 
Ein Schließer  Boris Djuric 
Ein Hirt / Attavanti  Rachel Bate 
Chor Chor der Oper Köln 
Kinderchor Kölner Domchor Orchester 
Gürzenich-Orchester Köln
Supper time at Casa Scarpia
Why Cologne Opera's new production of Tosca is attracting large audiences is a no-brainer. Puccini's "tawdry little shocker" is always a cash-cow, and on 31 May the performance boasted the extra draw of star tenor Jose Cura, in town for a one-night stand.  A dressy crowd and lots of opera insiders showed up to be dazzled.  And dazzle he did.  

Jose Cura
I can't remember the last time I heard a genuine Italianate tenor sing Cavaradossi (actually Cura is from Argentina), and it was a pleasure to hear a real deal in fine voice.  Hitting his stride from the start with a heartfelt "Ricondita Armonia,"  he later belted out a leonine “Vittoria!” and topped off with a theatrics-free "E lucevan le Stelle."  Cura is unusual among star tenors because he can act convincingly, even when he’s unfamiliar with the staging.  At the same time, he was determined to sing his Cavaradossi and paid little heed to conductor and Cologne’s General Music Director Markus Stenz, who maintained the high road and graciously accomodated his guest.

It's hard to sense what Stenz is making of the score, because he had his hands full keeping an ear on Cura.  Nonetheless, he held the orchestra together crisply and rallied  the other singers cohesively without trying to score interpretive points.  

While Cura appeared to be a considerate colleague to his fellow singers, some of them may have been a bit intimidated by his imposing presence.  Takesha Meshé Kizart cut an alluring figure as the ill-fated Floria and was on point for the “big” moments: the climax of the first and third act duets, "Visi D'arte" and the high C on "...Io quella lama gli piantai nel cor...." Elsewhere, her smokey lyrico spinto -- pleasantly reminiscent of early Martina Arroyo --  was often blemished by a tendency to sing below the note.  A sign of fatigue as well as a symptom of possibly demanding more of her gifts than they have yet to render at this point in career. 

Anthony Michaels-Moore was in better shape, portraying Scarpia with chilling cynicism.  But he gained the luster he lacked earlier in the performance only when Scarpia’s attack on Tosca began to pick up steam during the dining scene.


Tafelspitz alla Tosca
Speaking of dining, Scarpia’s tavolo da pranza is a permanent fixture throughout Thilo Reinhardt’s production, serving also as a casting couch, the altar in the Madonna della Purità Chapel of Sant'Andrea della Valle, and a backguard for Cavaradossi's execution. His largely rational staging, set in wartime Rome, sustains melodramatic tension, as long as you ignore references to Napoleon and think, yeah, they must be referring to Hitler.  The crucifix in the church setting also doubles as a torture slab (see photo). And instead of having Tosca leap to her death, Reinhardt has her make use of the same pistol she uses to dispatch Scarpia.  For once, an improvement on the original stage directions. 

The new Tosca is also drawing big crowds because it's Cologne Opera's first production to be staged at a venue known as the Musical-Dome, which will serve as the Opera’s temporary quarters, while the opera house in Offenbach Platz undergoes a massive and controversial renovation program to the estimated tune of 250 million euros (about $315,000,000).  This, amid more cutbacks in arts funding, not to mention the euro crisis and mounting national debt.  


Above: The Musical-Dome a.k.a. Oper Köln am Dom, Cologne Opera's temporary digs. The venue is located behind Cologne Cathetral on the banks of the Rhine.  Below: The opera house in Offenbach Platz is undergoing a controversial 253 million euro renovation.

  

The building is actually a massive tent, which usually hosts pop concerts and itinerant Broadway, West End and European musicals. (Some years ago, I saw the German edition of Saturday Night Fever here.  It had a significantly better cast than the one that eventually opened on Broadway.)  Acoustically the auditorium is satisfactory, requiring no amplification, though vocal reverb varies as the singers move about the stage.  The house is also tourist-friendly: It's located on the banks of the Rhine, close to the Cathedral and adjacent to the main train station -- much easier to find than Offenbach Platz

The Cologne Opera will call the Musical-Dome home for the better part of the next three years. 

Production Photos: Bernd Uhlig
Renovation Plan: Oper Köln
Other Photos & Graphics: Sam H. Shirakawa

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2 Comments:

At 6/06/2012 12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Problems between both maestri, Cura and Stentz, was simply that there has not been a music rehearsal, let along even meeting before... Pros and cons of this kind of touch and leave operations...

 
At 10/14/2012 5:30 AM, Anonymous Holly said...

Nice post which he building is actually a massive tent, which usually hosts pop concerts and itinerant Broadway, West End and European musicals. Acoustically the auditorium is satisfactory, requiring no amplification, though vocal reverb varies as the singers move about the stage. Thanks a lot for posting.

 

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