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Cincinnati Opera's "Tosca" Delivers

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Jun 16, 2006 - 12:00:00 AM in reviews_2006

Cincinnati Opera gave its audience what they like best Thursday night at Music Hall: an A-list opera, with spectacular romantic-realistic sets, great singing and a genuine diva.
   Starring in Puccini’s popular "Tosca," first production of the opera’s 2006 Summer Festival was soprano Aprile Millo in her Cincinnati Opera debut. Fresh from "Tosca’s" in New York (Metropolitan Opera), Chicago (Lyric Opera) and Milan (La Scala), Millo inhabited the role of opera diva Floria Tosca with ease, winning the hearts of the crowd as well as that of her lover, the painter Cavaradossi, sung by tenor Antonello Palombi.
   This "Tosca" was well suited to be "your first opera," as billboards around town have been suggesting. No sooner had the curtain risen on the spectacular Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production – act I transpires inside Rome’s Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle than the audience was hooked.
   Created for San Francisco Opera in 1972, Ponnelle’s design has become a kind of model "Tosca." The barrel-vaulted nave of Sant’Andrea is divided by grillwork gates, and the Castel Sant’Angelo in the final act is surmounted by a huge angel sheathing his sword. The sets were enhanced by colorful lighting, blood red pouring through the door behind which Cavaradossi was tortured by the police, sky blue fading to violet as the dawn broke at the end.
   Even the costumes were textbook in design, Tosca’s red velvet gown and tiara in act II, the police chief Scarpia’s black cape and boots.
   Visuals are one thing, but it’s the singing that really matters, and this cast met that challenge admirably. Millo was sweet-voiced and kittenish with Cavaradossi, shrill with Scarpia and heartbreaking on her aria "Vissi d’Arte," where she bemoaned the tragedy that has befallen her.
   Italian born Palombi, a rising star, displayed a pure, heroic tenor with arresting high notes and compelling acting, winning the biggest plaudits of the evening for his arias "Recondita armonia" and "E lucevan le stelle." Baritone Mark Delavan as Scarpia had a rich, warm voice and "died" eloquently with a gurgle and a gasp when Tosca stabbed him. Still, Delavan lacked the full measure of menace needed for this blackest of villains ("fascist satyr," Cavaradossi calls him). As the snuff-pinching Sacristan, baritone conveyed sardonic humor without slapstick, while the Shepherd Boy, sung offstage by boy soprano Charles Hiser, floated his song gracefully over the final act’s looming tragedy.
   Conductor Giordano Bellincampi led the Cincinnati Symphony with great skill and sensitivity, and there were some moments of exquisite interaction with the stage.
   Repeats are 8 p.m. Saturday and 8 p.m. June 23 at Music Hall. Tickets: (513) 241-2742.
(first published in The Cincinnati Post June 16, 2006)