My Sunday July 31 suntimes.com and Monday August 1 Chicago Sun-Times review of the Saturday July 30, 2011 Ravinia concert performance of Puccini's Tosca with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Bryn Terfel, Patricia Racette, and Salvatore Licitra, conducted by James Conlon.
Bryn Terfel sang the sadistic Baron Scarpia and Patricia Racette was the opera star Floria Tosca in the Ravinia program.
Bryn Terfel, Patricia Racette stay on top of ‘Tosca’ at Ravinia with the CSO
By ANDREW PATNER July 31, 2011 8:32PM CDT
Concert opera in the Pavilion and semi-staged productions in the Martin Theatre have been highlights of James Conlon’s run as music director at Ravinia. A hardworking conductor who loves the art form -- in addition to a long European career, he’s music director of Los Angeles Opera and the Cincinnati May Festival and has conducted more than 250 performances at New York’s Metropolitan opera -- his focus is on supporting his singers. Coupling this with the visible honor he displays at working with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Conlon’s given us Highland Park nights that were both crowd-pleasing and genuinely involving.
This year’s Martin performance is offered August 11 by San Francisco’s acclaimed Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra led by Nicholas McGegan in Handel’s Orlando. Saturday night, though, Conlon and the Ravinia administration pulled out two big vocal guns for a surprisingly satisfying concert performance of a work that defines staged theatrical melodrama, Puccini’s 1900 Tosca. Keeping things moving appropriately and reveling in the luxury casting of the CSO as an onstage pit band, Conlon set the musical context for an outdoor take on a claustrophobic story of love, hatred, sex, patriotism, betrayal, and vengeance.
That world-beating Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, making his first Chicago area appearance in seven years, was the twisted and cold-blooded Baron Scarpia, and American soprano Patricia Racette, a particularly emotionally effective Floria Tosca, elevated the evening and made for drama, excitement, and psychological insight. Chicagoans have known what Terfel is capable of vocally since the early 1990s when, not yet 30, he became a fixture at Lyric Opera of Chicago. It was not only wonderful to have him back (and he will give his first area recital in a dozen years Tuesday night in the Martin with pianist Brian Zeger), but a whole new audience saw what an actor he can be, expressing Scarpia’s venality and perverse nature (the Marquis de Sade would have been proud of his sense of the Roman police chief's sadism) almost with his face alone in what was otherwise a too-undirected “park and bark” presentation. Suave and slimmed-down at 45, the 6-foot-4-inch singer has a whole catalogue of visual snarls on top of his rich top-to-bottom voice and refined technique.
Terfel and Racette, along with German tenor Jonas Kaufmann (not, alas, a part of this cast), were credited with resurrecting a new, dead-on-arrival Tosca at the Met last season in its remount. While Racette, Terfel’s almost exact contemporary, often divides opera fans, her sense of holding the stage and projecting character without setting or props and in an open, outdoor, and cicada-”enriched” environment was remarkable. Her comic asides in Act One tickled, and her famous scenes with Scarpia in Act Two and as she confronts her destiny in Act Three sizzled.
Italian tenor Salvatore Licitra, in his early 40s, is a puzzlement. He tends to need warming up in performance, and after you are wishing he might disappear following his first missed notes and vocal cracks he usually starts to come back by his final number. He held to form Saturday; an almost wholly uninteresting painter and patriot Mario Cavaradossi in the first two acts, he somehow became compelling as he faced probable execution in Act Three.
American bass Morris Robinson (who will be Joe in Lyric’s Show Boat this coming season) was a theatrically powerful fugitive Angelotti, and Lyric mainstay bass-baritone Dale Travis has owned the role of the Sacristan for years. Scarpia’s henchmen have an odd time without staging, but Filipino tenor and Ryan Center alum Rodell Rosel found some appropriate creepiness (and a rather astonishing hairdo) as Spoletta. Eleven-year-old Henry Griffin was a show-stealer in the Act Three Shepherd Boy’s song. Keep your eye out: He’s one of the finest boy sopranos you’ll ever hear. Griffin’s colleagues from Josephine Lee’s Chicago Children’s Choir animated the Act One “Te Deum,” but continued Ravinia penny-pitching meant that the power and authority of the professional Chicago Symphony Chorus were replaced instead by the earnest but different-league efforts of the volunteer Apollo Chorus of Chicago, Stephen Alltop, music director.