The North Carolina Opera’s production of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca presents the tragic tale with a surprising amount of humor and heart, successfully updating an old classic for modern audiences. The story opens with soon-to-be-doomed Mario Cavaradossi, played memorably by Steven Harrison, working on his portrait of Mary Magdalene. The Act I set, designed by David Gano, is a believable 1800s chapel featuring ominous gates and appropriately drab colors. Donald Hartmann’s hilarious Sacristan and Cynthia Lawrence’s fiercely in love and overly jealous Floria Tosca pop in this bland atmosphere and make the viewer yearn for more. The lively-costumed choir’s performance of Te Deum adds further fun to the act. Thanks to a talented orchestra, the show’s best scenes are brought to full, rich life.
It is in the second act, however, that things get a little out of control. Lawrence’s performance becomes over the top and clown like, and Grant Youngblood’s Scarpia teeters undecidedly between being simply mischievous and completely evil. These factors, combined with cluttered staging from director James Marvel and sleep-inducing music from conductor Timothy Myers give the act a bipolar feel. The second act set and costumes are eye-catching, but they can’t fully redeem this flawed and poorly executed segment.
Things get better once again in the all too short third and final act. The moving scenes are effectively and heart wrenchingly acted by Lawrence and Harrison, and the music finally finds the gusto it’s been lacking. Even though most viewers know the tragedy that is about to unfold, they still hold their breaths and then let out a deep sigh at the climactic ending.
While not perfect, this performance of Tosca is watchable by everyone. It’s light enough not to intimidate first time opera goers but still features enough pizzazz to keep enthusiasts entertained. Tosca was performed on Friday, October 15 and Sunday, October 17 at the Progress Energy Center. Next up for the North Carolina Opera will be Love Letters, scheduled appropriately for Sunday, February 13 and Monday, February 14 at Kenan Auditorium at Peace College. To buy tickets or for more information, visit http://www.ncopera.org.