Same old, same old. A generation of operagoers have now endured L.A. Opera’s creaky old “Tosca,” apparently not minding the historical howler — mention being made of Napoleon’s June 1800 victory at Marengo while the (uncredited) costumes update the action to a century later. Okay, nobody goes to “Tosca” for the sets or the costumes, and at least director Ian Judge’s gimmick of the shadow play in the second act, while poor Cavaradossi is being tortured belowstairs, makes for pretty good Grand Guignol.
Otherwise, this latest “Tosca” holds its place in the annals for the exceptional dispatch of the name role by Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka, her first in the role on any stage. Pieczonka has already been praised locally for her command of the German repertory — “Lohengrin,” “Der Rosenkavalier” — and her Tosca is no less commanding, the character sung for its humanness, not merely for applause.
She is, alas, up against Neil Shicoff, the same boob of a Cavaradossi who made his local debut in the role in 1989: a voice with all the notes but little color, a stage presence that always seems to suggest that he has just wandered in casually from somewhere else. As the venal top-cop Scarpia, veteran baritone Juan Pons sort of fulfills the role.
Richard Armstrong, of Covent Garden’s Royal Opera and elsewhere, conducts all the right notes without revealing any hidden nuances in “Tosca” that other have failed to find. (There are none.) Actually, Armstrong holds the fort for L.A. Opera honcho Placido Domingo, who arrives in time to lead the final three performances (of an unprecedented 10).
This particular “Tosca” revival, a mere two seasons after the last, be it noted, was underwritten by the family of Richard Seaver, the tall, commanding figure in the mute role of the Cardinal in the act-one religious procession in the last two revivals. Be it also noted that Pieczonka’s Tosca was adorned with jewelry created for Maria Callas when she sang the role at the Met. A lot goes into opera.