FGO serves up a riveting and combustible “Tosca”

By Lawrence Budmen

Toni Marie Palmertree and Arturo Chacon-Cruz star in Puccini’s Tosca at Florida Grand Opera. Photo: Daniel Azoulay

Puccini’s Tosca is an operatic evergreen. The adaptation of Victorien Sardou’s play of political intrigue, romance, sexual desire and murder mixes inspired melodies, high drama and great vocal opportunities for the three principals. In a staid production with mediocre singing, the work can seem stale and dated. 

But with intelligently conceived staging and superior vocalism, the opera remains theatrically combustible 123 years after its 1900 premiere. That is exactly what Florida Grand Opera’s new production delivered on Saturday night at the Arsht Center.

Puccini conceived one of his most dramatic scores for this quasi-historical drama that sets the Roman operatic diva Floria Tosca and the artist and revolutionary Mario Cavaradossi against the police chief cum dictator Baron Scarpia in the midst of the Napoleonic wars. The opposing forces of love, evil domination of power and societal upheaval finds all three dead at the final curtain.

The title role is a larger-than-life embodiment of a theatrical star coping with passionate emotions and loyalty to her lover and his cause. Toni Marie Palmertree proved a lyric Tosca who is fully equal to the role’s demands. 

She brings a playful charm to her initial scene with Cavaradossi but her fiery temperament can flair to jealousy with conviction. Palmertree’s voice is even throughout a wide range and she can caress long phrases while her strong top notes cut through the orchestra clearly.

She vividly projected Tosca’s agony at seeing her lover tortured in the second act. Palmertree’s rendition of “Vissi d’arte” was passionate, as much a prayer as a plea. Near the opera’s conclusion, her narrative of Scarpia’s murder proved riveting.

Arturo Chacon-Cruz has the heroic ring and fearless defiance for Cavaradossi. His robust tenor is replete with Italianate squillo. He vaulted “Recondita armonia” through the house in a manner that commanded listeners to sit up and take notice. He could also sing softly to beguiling effect.

“E lucevan le stelle” emerged burnished and impassioned but he thinned his sound down to lightness for “O dolce mani.” Palmertree and Chacon-Cruz achieved real chemistry, their voices nearly perfectly balanced when blending in duet.

As Scarpia, Todd Thomas brought a faux dignity with his verbal and tonal coloring skillfully mirroring the villain’s dark thoughts. His baritone could turn warm and graceful in deception when feigning sympathy for Tosca’s doubts about Mario’s fidelity.  Thomas seethed with passion and desire for the heroine, turning the Act I “Te Deum” into a psychodrama of explosive violence lurking beneath the sacred ceremony. Thomas’ portrayal had the impact and command of a great singing actor.

Secondary roles were equally well accounted for. Neil Nelson’s rotund bass and sly characterization of the Sacristan was a scene stealer. Charles Calotta, the fine lyric tenor who was a standout in the recent FGO production of Gianni Schicchi, emerged sinister as Spoletta, Scarpia’s henchman. Phillip Lopez did yeoman double duty as the escaped Prisoner Angelotti and as the Jailer. Kornel Racz sang the Shepherd Boy’s offstage song in pure tones and Matthew Cossack was an effective Sciarrone.

Gregory Buchalter led a taut performance that fully conveyed the tense drama and lyricism of Puccini’s music. The orchestra played with strength, luster and seamless flow throughout the opera’s three acts. The Florida Singing Sons boychoir (under Daniel Bates and Malcolm Rogers) provided fresh voices and high spirits for the Act I finale, joining the FGO chorus (under Jared Peroune) in a vigorous and unified, well coordinated effort that rang the house.

Jeffrey Marc Buchman’s production avoided excessive melodrama in favor of a natural theatrical tension. Even though the drama’s outcome is well-known, Buchman’s direction kept the momentum and drama front and center. His closing tableaux for the Act I “Te Deum” was grandly operatic indeed. With imposing sets from the Sarasota Opera by David P. Gordon, including an ornate Palazzo Farnace, and period costumes by Howard  Tsvi Kaplan  (lit evocatively by Rick Fisher), this Tosca provided gripping theater as well as a vocal feast.

The opening night audience cheered cast, conductor, director and production team vociferously. There are two remaining performances in Miami and two in Fort Lauderdale.

Florida Grand Opera repeats Tosca 2 p.m. Sunday and 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Arsht Center in Miami and 7:30 p.m. April 13 and 15 at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale. fgo.org

Posted in Performances

One Response to “FGO serves up a riveting and combustible “Tosca””

  1. Posted Mar 21, 2023 at 1:39 pm by Bob KehrliRCS

    Great review! Congratulations to whole cast! Especially to Tina Marie!!!

Leave a Comment

Sun Mar 19, 2023
at 11:44 am
1 Comment