Sarasota Opera delivers an intense, gripping “Tosca”

March 17, 2015
Kara Shay Thomson and Rafael Davila in Puccini's"Tosca" at Sarasota Opera. Photo: Rod Millington

Kara Shay Thomson and Rafael Davila in Puccini’s”Tosca” at Sarasota Opera. Photo: Rod Millington

The long-running complete Verdi cycle may be Sarasota Opera’s greatest claim to renown. Yet the work that the company has become most acclaimed for over the past decade, is not by Verdi, but by Puccini. The fact is Sarasota Opera does one hell of a Tosca.

Saturday night’s performance served up another combustible night of Puccini, with the attractive production (sets by David P. Gordon, costumes by Howard Tsvi Kaplan), and Victor DeRenzi’s fiery conducting providing the fulcrum once again.

This season Kara Shay Thomson and Rafael Davila are reprising their leading roles from the company’s last Tosca outing in 2009. This may not be the most subtle rendition of Puccini’s “shabby little shocker” one will ever hear but it surely is one of the most exciting. And who wants a subtle Tosca anyway?

Dramatic intensity was to the fore more than technical vocal perfection. There is not much Italianate sweetness in Davila’s big, burly tenor but he sang with unflagging passion and huge tone, his resounding cry of “Vittoria!” pinning one’s ears back.

Thomson is a fiery actress, impassioned and intensely dramatic. Like Davila, her voice is more impressive for sheer muscle than refinement. “Vissi d’arte” was more a desperate, tormented plea than a beautiful sing, yet it’s hard to cavil when the soprano throws herself into the role of the imperiled diva with such unhinged intensity.

Sarasota’s perennial Scarpia, the veteran baritone Todd Thomas, will sing the two final performances. But Mark Walters made an impressive local role debut, his aristocratic, handsome police chief just as odiously villainous, and singing with an impressive, rounded baritone.

It’s striking how much richer and more Italianate the orchestra sounds when DeRenzi is in the pit. As in previous productions, DeRenzi and the cast build the tension to a nerve-wracking pitch in Act 2 and the opera’s fine scene kept up the momentum.

Young Bok Kim was a sonorous Angelotti, Ricardo Lugo, a big-voiced Sacristan. Serenna Jones sang the offstage Shepherd with an artless simplicity that was surely exactly what Puccini intended.

Tosca will be repeated March 17, 22, 25 and 28.

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