Supertenor Placido Domingo and supersoprano Maria Ewing sang up a romantic storm Sunday, in the Los Angeles Music Center Opera’s revival of their 1989 production of Puccini’s “Tosca.”
The big difference is Domingo, who proves to be better suited to Ewing’s high-voltage performance as Floria Tosca than Neil Shicoff was in ’89. His dramatic intensity as the patriotic artist Cavaradosi is more on a par with Ewing’s flamboyant portrayal.
In fact, the heat they generate during the romantic encounter and duet in Act 1 (under the watchful eyes of the Madonna of Sant’ Andrea della Valle) is enough to melt more than one votive candle.
Since debuting her Tosca here in ’89, Ewing has gone even further in her vocal interpretation and stretching the role’s dynamic to the very edge.
Like Maria Callas, she is dedicated to the dramatic intensity of the characterization, and if that means producing an ugly sound here and there to add dramatic emphasis to a key exclamation, then so be it.
These explosions of anger and surprise rise as knife-edged crescendos that are decidedly (and deliberately) shrill and assaultive.
But as Tosca’s moods swing, Ewing can produce a purring pianissimo, or a gentle, compassionate legato, as she did in her marvelous rendition of “Vissi d’arte.”
For Ewing, Tosca is a woman driven by extremes of passion.
For Placido Domingo, Cavaradosi is familiar territory. He has been singing the role at the Music Center since 1966.
His voice (and physique) may have lost some of their youthful flexibility, but he is still a powerful presence in the part. He can illicit a clarion “Vittoria!”; produce poetic renditions of “Recondita armonia” and “E lucevan le stelle”; and project more than enough vocal and dramatic intensity to compliment Ewing’s performance.
In ’89, Justino Diaz was both suave and rapacious as Tosca’s nemesis, the Baron Scarpia.
Now the role has been taken by a more sonorous, if less dramatic, bass baritone, James Morris.
Morris prefers to conceal Scarpia’s darker side behind a manicured facade. As a result, their final duel to the death lacks some of the violent power that made Diaz’s performance memorable. Morris goes more gently into that good night.
The secondary cast is strong throughout: Michael Gallup as the crotchety Sacristan; Richard Bernstein as the escaped prisoner Angelotti; Greg Fedderly as Spoletta; and John Atkins as Sciarrone. The L.A. Master Chorale provides a mighty Act 1 “Te deum,” and throughout the performance, conductor Randall Behr produced a rousing performance from the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.
In contrast to Puccini (and Sardou’s original play), which clearly defines the setting and action, this production’s scheme remains a constant source of consternation.
The expressionistic sets and the decision to update the action by some 100 years to a vaguely fascistic Italy is more confusing than illuminating.
In the end, it’s not really that important. Because, when you have Domingo and Ewing to focus on, who really cares about sets, costumes and historical accuracy?