Miami Lyric Opera hits the heights with an impassioned “Tosca”

By Lawrence Budmen

Nathalie Avila sang the title role in Puccini's "Tosca" Saturday night.

Nathalie Avila sang the title role in Miami Lyric Opera’s production of “Tosca” Saturday night.

Puccini’s Tosca is one of the most enduring staples of the operatic repertoire. Premiered in Rome at the dawn of the 20th century in January, 1900, Tosca combines the grandeur of Verdi’s late operas with the more intimate passions of verismo. Along the way love, jealousy, political intrigue, and the uneasy relationship between church and state make for a combustible brew.

Most of all Tosca requires singing in the Italian grand manner and Raffaele Cardone’s spunky Miami Lyric Opera offered some terrific vocalism in its latest staging of the Puccini classic Saturday night at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center in Cutler Bay.

The title role of the operatic diva Floria Tosca is a star vehicle and Nathalie Avila both vocally and theatrically filled the bill with style and temperament to burn. Glamorously gowned in true star manner, she strikingly encompassed Tosca’s mercurial changes of mood from love to heartbreak and heroism. Avila’s multihued voice encompassed the role’s highest and lowest extremes and she brought intensity and flair to Tosca’s fierce confrontation with the evil Baron Scarpia in Act II. Following Tosca’s murder of the Roman police chief, Avila chose to sing rather than speak the final line “and before him, all Rome trembled” in an effective dramatic climax as she nervously threw a crucifix over Scarpia’s body. Her sumptuously vocalized “Vissi d’arte” rightly brought down the house.

As the painter and political dissident Mario Cavaradossi, Enrique Pina brought a vocal timbre both heroic and honeyed to some of Puccini’s most famous tenor arias. Right from the start, he offered a ringing “Recordita armonia” and “E lucevan le stelle” was sung with delicacy and beautiful soft dynamics. Pina’s sound could also turn to steely brilliance in his cries of “Vittoria!” at the news of Napoleon’s victory near Rome. His duets with Avila were finely gauged, Pina modulating his volume to blend with her more lyric sound.

The role of Scarpia can seem a stock villain but Nelson Martinez made the conniving commander into a larger-than-life figure. Recently signed by the Met, Martinez’s dark, booming baritone commanded attention from his first appearance. In the “Te Deum” that closes the opera’s first act, Martinez managed to combine sheer vocal power, elegance and malevolence in a striking manner with his voice easily resounding over the full orchestra and chorus. The tension was palpable in his scenes with Avila, Martinez registering Scarpia’s evil intentions even when he seemed to act with dignity and kindness.

Erick Dobkin brought a firm baritone and keen dramatic instincts and convincing fear to the role of Angelotti, an escaped political prisoner and Cavaradossi’s friend. Jared Poroune’s agile declamation and oily, sinister portrayal of Scarpia’s henchman Spoletta gave a secondary role prominence.

Alex Leytes Adams was a comedic Sacristan. Ismael Gonzalez as Sciarrone and Gabriel Menendez as the jailer voiced their few lines capably. As the offstage voice of the Shepherd, Catherine Gispert’s high soprano suggested larger assignments may be due in the future.

Jeffrey Eckstein conducted a well-paced reading, drawing some fine and sonorous playing from the strings. He made the music of the cantata from backstage in Act II more prominent, allowing Puccini’s melodic inspiration to be fully heard. The children’s chorus was notably precise and vociferous in the church scene and the female choir sounded fine in the cantata fragments.

Cardone’s dramatic and effective staging was enhanced by Kristina Villaverde’s strongly evocative lighting and imposing sets (particularly of the Sant Andrea della Vale and the ramparts of the Castel Sant Angelo) from the house of Stivvanello/Sormani. (Decades ago that venerable company regularly provided sets and costumes for the productions of Florida Grand Opera.)

The South Miami-Dade auditorium proved a near-ideal venue for opera. The ample stage and unobstructed sight lines are enhanced by clear vocal sound with plenty of bloom and a genuine orchestra pit. Vocal-instrumental blend was near perfect, with the hall a great setting for one of MLO’s finest productions.

Miami Lyric Opera repeats Tosca 4 p.m. Sunday at the South Miami Dade Cultural Arts Center in Cutler Bay.;

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Miami Lyric Opera hits the heights with an impassioned “Tosca””

  1. Posted Aug 28, 2016 at 2:46 pm by Aimee

    What frustrates me about reviews like this one is obviously experts think spectators are morons. When you write a too soft critique artists and director fail to get the message that they really do need to make changes. This disappointing Tosca is the least moving MLO production I have ever seen. The inept acting of Avila, PiƱa and “emerging bass” was more than evident. Sorry but this time the stench of mediocrity was inescapable.

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Sun Aug 28, 2016
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