After the last few operas I've seen, and I'm speaking as a ticket-buying audience member not as a producer, I'd become increasingly worried that opera was falling into a void. A void of mediocre singing/yelling, terrible language skills and acting without textual connotations (let alone, subtextual!), horrid lighting cues that verged on community theatre, incompetent conducting and pedestrian direction.
A sad state! I'd been seeing this sort of "throw-it-together" opera for awhile now... Everywhere: close at home, far from home, at opera companies with big budgets and at companies with small budgets. It was getting kinda depressing.
And then I took a flight from Plattsburgh, NY, to Boston, MA to see the Boston Lyric Opera production of Puccini's "Tosca'. The reason for my trip was to see old friends who were all involved in the production. The leading lady Jill Gardner, the director David Lefkowich, and the conductor Andrew Bisantz, were all assembled by the artistic administrator of BLO Nicholas Russell for this production. All of us had met at Glimmerglass during our summers there, and now here they were in Boston.
Honestly, I was more interested in seeing everyone than sitting through another opera - particularly when I heard the tenor had become sick and they were bringing in a sub. I also did not know the rest of the cast, and so was getting set for that "same-old" opera I had been seeing at other places around North America.
Well --- OPERA LIVES AGAIN! In spades! The BLO production just blew me away. Starting with Jill's amazing, gutsy, and wonderfully sung portrayal of the title role. I have not seen a singer give such a complete performance -- vocal, musical, and dramatic -- in years. Jill WAS Tosca. I believed every moment and she created such special ones: praying to the Madonna, flirting with her Mario, singing "Vissi d'arte" on Scarpia's temporary cot, stabbing him to death with the scissors (go David Lefkowich!), and her amazingly shocking "leap". You just had to be there to believe it. It was all done with a beautiful connection to the text, attention to Puccini's score, and gorgeous tone. BRAVA!
Supporting her in all of this was the conductor, Andrew Bisantz. I've heard him conduct lots of opera - from Little Women to Manon Lescaut, and was not surprised at how adept he was with this score. I think Puccini might be his forte, as it all seemed to flow effortlessly; sculpting a beautiful performance from orchestra and singers alike, he allowed his leading singers ample freedom to express this tricky score. It's too bad that the Met seems to be hiring young, inexperienced Maestri with big names and big money behind them -- instead of hiring actual conductors who know the scores because they've spent their 10,000 hours actually LEARNING how the buggers go. Note to Gelb...
Not to be missed were all of David Lefkowich's touches. This was not an original production -- rented all the way from Scottish National Opera and arriving via boat. I've only seen David work in original productions, and he flourishes in those. However, the confines presented to him really came to fruition in the 2nd act. It was simply riveting. From Scarpia getting in some good ol' fashioned gut punches on the tenor, to the vivid almost-rape of Tosca, to Scarpia's murder by scissors, I was impressed. No one moves men around onstage in Fedoras better than David Lefkowich!
The rest of the cast was also QUITE good: from Bradley Garvin's channeling of a young Milnes mixed with Hollywood good looks, to the substitute tenor of the day Richard Crawley (who threw himself into the role as if he'd been in rehearsals for weeks), to the supporting roles (T. Stephen Smith's perfect Sacristan to Anton Belov's Angelotti); that sort of deep casting comes from an artistic administrator who knows his business!
So yes, I judged an Aria Contest for Teens - with Miss Boston and her tiara - and there were numerous bottles of champagne and red wine at a dinner filled with old friends from Florida Grand Opera (a surprise). I also had an afternoon with the glorious Ruth Golden, in town to hear the opening night, and was able to see Brevard alumni Nicole Rodin sing in an outreach BLO performance plus have a Starbucks with Margot Rood. Margot's now flourishing in Boston, which is such a great place for singers with small voices...
Just kidding Margot! I'm hoping Boston will figure out what I figured out three years ago -- Margot is one of the most talented singing actors out there. BLO should hire her next...
Next up: Catherine Malfitano's McGill masterclass on November 20; Boheme starts staging at McGill on November 23; Gately and I head off for the Brevard auditions Dec. 4 - 15 (Chicago, Ft.Worth, NYC, Boston). I promise to blog from those auditions!