glorious voice: Lindstrom in Tosca.
Karli Cadel/Glimmerglass Opera
by David Angus, directed by Ned Canty
Glimmerglass Opera, Cooperstown, July 9
Sardou’s 1887 melodrama La Tosca has long since fallen
out of even the fringes of the theatrical repertory, and with
good reason. Such morbidly sentimental works are played these
days, if they’re played at all, for sardonic laughs. What
worked for Sarah Bernhardt now looks silly.
Giacomo Puccini’s 1900 setting of the play remains an operatic
staple. Sure, it’s emotionally outsized and overblown, and
the third act resists credibility, but the parts that work
(and there are many) are still compelling.
We don’t go to see Tosca hit the deck at the end—that’s old
hat. We go for the high-stakes dance between her and the magnificently
villainous Scarpia, and for a few key arias and duets.
The Glimmerglass Opera production that opened last Friday
hewed to tradition, thankfully, and gave us a Tosca
set in its original time and place (it would be difficult
to transplant them), with an almost-stellar cast and a superb
orchestra—kudos to conductor David Angus. The only misstep,
and it unfortunately was a big one, was with the title role.
As with anything theatrical, the problem probably is shared
by soprano Lise Lindstrom and director Ned Canty, who shaped
the character into something far less than the larger-than-life
persona we expect.
We got off to a good start with the byplay between the painter
Cavaradossi (tenor Adam Diegel) and the Sacristan (baritone
Robert Kerr). Characteristic of the opera—and Puccini’s work
of this period—is the blending of aria into scene. Cavaradossi
celebrates the beauty of his beloved Tosca in “Recondita armonia
di bellezze diverse!,” but it’s punctuated by the Sacristan’s
mutterings and soon eases into the other’s response. There’s
no applause point until much later in the act, although the
moment was so well done that you had to fight the urge to
give them a hand.
In the writing, Tosca is given a star’s entrance. This Tosca
didn’t take it. The character is a celebrated diva, but Lindstrom
strolled on (in Matthew Pachtman’s drab housewife costume)
more like a tourist than star. Where she’s supposed to be
burning with jealousy, Lindstrom merely smoldered.
But Lindstrom’s voice was glorious, as we shortly heard in
“Non la sospiri, la nostra casetta,” in which jealousy’s
passion shifts to desire.
A different intensity characterized Lester Lynch’s bad-to-the-bone
Scarpia, the corrupt police chief. He’s on the trail of an
escaped prisoner and reasons, correctly, that Cavaradossi
is hiding him. Which will serve his desire to get rid of both
men and take Tosca for himself, played out in one of the great
set-pieces in opera, the act one finale in which Scarpia’s
evil musings are played against a stirring Te Deum.
Act two is all about torture, as Cavaradossi’s offstage cries
weaken the resistant Tosca. In the midst of this high-passion
scene, the dynamics completely change as she sings “Vissi
d’arte,” as sudden in its appearance as is “O mio babbino
caro” in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. And it’s as effectively
memorable, beautifully realized by Lindstrom. By the third
act, her character caught up with her manner. She seemed worn
down but buoyed by hope, well matched to Diegel’s Cavaradossi
in the duet “Amaro sol per te m’era il morire.” But it’s the
tenor’s earlier aria that makes the scene: “Una furtiva lagrima.”
I’m a pretty firm Bjoerling fan, but Diegel surprised me by
shrewdly and effectively underplaying the start of it before
giving it the usual big finish.
And it’s a reminder that muted colors can be effective tools
on an otherwise brilliant palette—but Tosca herself needs
to be part of that brilliance.
Lovely Night at the Opera
by Curtis Tucker, directed by Jose Maria Condemi
Lake George Opera, Spa Little Theater, July 10
It takes a very entertaining, viva cious, flirtatious Carmen
to make the Georges Bizet opera of the same name work. She
is the center of everything—the free spirited gypsy woman
who devours men whole and spits them out when she is done.
Without a captivating Carmen things can get ugly pretty fast.
On Saturday night mezzo-soprano Kendall Gladen delivered a
solid performance as Carmen. Her voice was where it should
be, she was gorgeous and she had a commanding stage presence—but
she didn’t use it all to full effect. She was more schoolyard
bully than wild temptress. However, her cast mates made up
for that with some wild, tempestuous performances that sometimes
went off the rails but kept the presentation true to the opera.
Allison Pohl as Frasquita and Elizabeth Pojanowski as Mercedes
were perfect complements to Gladen’s adequate acting as Carmen.
Pohl, a soprano, played her role with vigor and glee; her
voice was stunning and at times eclipsed the rest of the cast.
That isn’t exactly how you are supposed to sing in a chorus,
but Joshua Kohl as Don Jose and Darren Stokes as Escamillo
sometimes failed to project their voices. They came across
as muffled and didn’t always fill the theater.
Christopher Temporelli played Captain Zuniga with commanding
authority—his voice boomed through the theater, delivering
the heft absent from some of the other principal men’s singing.
Emily Newton as Micaela, the naïve country girl, delivered
the most nuanced performance of the evening. Her voice was
powerful and captivating, and she was able to communicate
both hope and despair.
A lot of the disparity in vocal delivery certainly could be
attributed to the fact that the conductor and orchestra were
placed behind the singers in a loft above the stage. (The
Spa Little Theater lacks an orchestra pit.) A number of the
audience members wondered how the singers were getting any
cues at all.
The orchestra’s performance was immaculate. I could have closed
my eyes and listened to their playing and still felt satisfied.
The set over which the orchestra loomed was utilitarian and
nothing more. When transformed into the exterior of the bullring
at Seville for the final scene, however, the set came alive
with bullfighting adverts and flowers.
In the end—despite some flaws—the opera was a blast.
Maybe it was the summer air, the glee and abandon demonstrated
by a number of the performers or the idea that I was able
to take a short drive only to stroll across a gloriously green
park into a little opera house to see such a lively performance,
but whatever it was, I was left feeling that what I might
normally feel were gaping flaws only added to the charm of
the performance. I left feeling privileged to have spent my
summer evening in such a way. Even those very familiar with
Carmen could probably get a thrill out of spending
a night getting their socks blown off by the Lake George Opera’s
flirtatious performance of Bizet’s Carmen.
La Mamma (Le Convenienze ed Iconvenienze Teatrali)
by Curtis Tucker, directed by Nelson Sheeley
Lake George Opera, Spa Little Theater, July 11
Farce and opera have become uneasy bedfellows. It’s bad enough
in many a musical comedy, where cheap, audience-pandering
gags are easy to indulge. In opera, farce seems to offer a
license to chase laughs at the expense of the integrity that,
yes, even broadly written comedy deserves. Which is why I
avoid Gilbert and Sullivan productions: I’ve yet to see one
that reveals any understanding of the humor intrinsic to the
But Gaetano Donizetti’s Le Convenienze ed Iconvenienze
Teatrali, nicknamed “Viva La Mamma” for modern audiences,
is unknown enough to be inviting. And it’s a backstage farce,
which holds promise: anything that mocks sopranos has instant
It started off well, if deceptively. A new intro, devised
by director Nelson Sheeley and the musically versatile John
Douglas, kicks off with Mozart’s “Voi che sapete,” part of
an audition sequence, and gave mezzo Elizabeth Pojanowski
a brief, deft, amusingly sexy cameo. Soprano Allison Pohl
sang more Mozart in another fine cameo, and then Anna Steenerson,
whom we would see later as Luigia, Secondo Donna, warmed us
up with a bit from Donizetti’s Lucia.
All of which set the stage for the backstage antics of a company
(played in modern dress) whose rehearsal of something titled
Romulus and Ersilia is falling to pieces as backbiting
and jealousy rules the day.
As the Prima Donna, soprano Elizabeth Andrews Roberts had
a delightfully acidic presence and a powerful voice. She’s
used to getting her way, and her husband (the obsequious Procolo,
sung by Kenneth Mattice) is there to smooth things over. But
Luigia’s mother then barges in to be sure her daughter has
a duet with the star soprano.
This is the “Mamma”—Mamma Agata—of the nickname, a drag role
that set baritone Richard Holmes scampering around in Dame
Edna getup. With him came all the hoary old destroy-the-fourth-wall
nonsense I was dreading.
Without a firm directorial hand (and a choreographer, much
needed here), opera singers—especially the character types—will
pull from a bag of tricks accumulated over many years and
many productions. Thus it was that each of the leads here
seemed, in terms of style and movement, in a separate show.
Not that this Mamma was without its moments. An octet
sung just before Agata’s entrance had the musical verve that
makes this kind of piece worthwhile, and even occasional rhythmic
lapses didn’t mar the overall effect.
Tenor John Tsotsoros was completely believable as a hot-headed
German tenor. Also sticking to their roles nicely were William
Roberts as the composer, Jeffrey Beruan as the librettist
and Christopher Temporelli as the beleaguered impresario.
Once Holmes hit the stage, however, we devolved to tit-grabbing
jokes, and it was all played to the gallery from there on
The orchestra, under the baton of artistic director Curtis
Tucker, did a commendable job with the sprightly score.