The Manitoba Opera’s performance of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca started with an interesting key note address by Peter George, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Manitoba Opera. In the address George stated that the total proceeds from the tickets bought only covered about forty percent of the production costs, which would theoretically only cover up to the first ten minutes of Tosca’s second act. George then made a crack about ending the show early, which got the audience laughing (more out of courtesy than anything), but then he assured the audience that he wouldn’t. At the climactic finale of the Tosca’s second act however, I couldn’t help but wonder if George had inadvertently set into motion a self fulfilling prophecy as the production did not always feel like a full effort, but almost a well done dress rehearsal.
Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca (based on Victorien Sardou’s drama, La Tosca) is about a painter named Mario Cavaradossi (played by Richard Margison) and his love Floria Tosca (played by Wendy Nielsen). Cavaradossi is suspected of assisting an escaped political prisoner and the chief of police Baron Scarpia (played by Gaétan Laperriére) will stop at nothing to ruin their plans. The tragedy comes in watching Tosca transform from a renowned singer to a woman who has to murder to protect her love.
Wendy Nielsen played Tosca with an ease that comes only from experience. She effortlessly made the transition from jealous lover to desperate killer, and had no problems hitting any of the high notes in between. It is just this ease of performance however, that made Nielsen’s Tosca feel shallow in comparison to the likes of opera singers Renata Tebaldi or Angela Gheorghiu. Nielsen put in what was required of her to make the performance work, but she didn’t dig deep enough to express the emotional traumas that Tosca was experiencing.
While initially criticised by some for his underwhelming performance in Tosca’s opening night performance, Gaétan Laperriére’s Baron Scarpia was a highlight of Tuesday night’s show. Laperriére played Scarpia with the vigorous enthusiasm that the wicked character requires, spurring laughs from an audience that at times felt dead quiet.
Richard Margison embodied the painter/friend/lover Mario Cavaradossi quite admirably as well, handling the range of emotions that he encounters formidably. From concerned friend, to annoyed lover, and finally tortured soul, Margison skilfully personifies Cavaradossi.
The lush set design and beautiful (if not a little too subdued) performance of Puccini’s music by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra combined to create a venerable evening of visual poetry that left the audience undoubtedly entertained, but somewhat underwhelmed. The second acts violent finale had me judging the visual aesthetics of the scene more than the actors’ performances, while Tosca’s final climax felt over formulaic and rehearsed.
Director Valerie Kuinka’s rendition of Tosca is a beautiful looking and sounding production that does due diligence to Puccini’s work. The principle performances were fine all around, but lacked much of the energy and zeal that the opening nights performance was so lauded for. Opera is meant to evoke a strong emotional response from the audience, and judging by the lack of any standing ovation Kuinka’s Tosca failed to hit the mark.