Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

Tosca
Palm Beach Opera
Review by Jeffrey Bruce | Season Schedule


Keri Alkema and Michael Chioldi
Photo by Bruce Bennett
The Palm Beach Opera opened their winter season this past weekend with Giacomo Puccini's Tosca. PBO produces only three operas per season, and only three performances of each, but still maintains one of the highest profiles in South Florida. The house was sold out on Friday, with prime seats in the hundreds of dollars category. Bravo to them and their longevity!

Many have queried the veracity of calling Aida, Aida rather than Amneris, since she can steal the show if done well. The same could be said for Tosca: Beware of Scarpia, the Chief of Secret Police! Baritone Michael Chioldi was the star of the evening in this production. Of the principals, his was the most realistic portrayal, with a baritone which was plangent and multi-layered. There was a feeling of sorrow that I felt for his Baron which I have never felt for Milnes, Morris, MacNeil, or any of the other Scarpia's of my generation. His ardor and lust for Tosca was obvious, but he managed to convey a loneliness and tenderness that heretofore has been missing in many portrayals of my experience. His singing of his act two aria, "Ha piu forte sapore" was a highlight.

Lust, sexual harassment, a despicable despot of a leader—who knew Signore Puccini was as prescient as he was? For those of you who are not opera buffs, the story is quite basic and I will attempt to simplify it even more. Floria Tosca, a theatrical diva, is in love with the painter Mario Cavaradossi. Cavaradossi harbors an escaped political prisoner, Angelotti (the lustrous voiced Scott Conner). An escaped political prisoner is all the bait that the vile Scarpia needs to take Cavaradossi out of the running for the affections of Tosca, whom the Baron desperately desires. Scarpia takes Mario as prisoner, tortures him, and Tosca says that she will, alas, give in to the Baron only if she and Mario receive safe passage out of Rome. Devil that the is, the Baron signs said release but lets his minions know that they are, indeed, to kill Cavaradossi in spite of what he has written.

Tosca gets the last word when she leaps (backwards!) from the parapet of the prison after Mario is shot dead. Yes, as in most operas, "she dies."

While the audience at the performance I attended seemed most appreciative, I, unfortunately, was not. Our two leads, Keri Alkema as Tosca and Ricardo Massi as Cavaradossi, have the voices for their roles. His opening aria, "Recondita armonia" held great promise, but they were obviously led by their director, Ms. Fenlon Lamb, to "park and bark" whenever possible. Mr. Massi, of the "arms outstretched on all the high notes" school of singing, and Ms. Alkema were downstage as much as possible to the point where I felt that they would fall into the orchestra pit if not careful. Each aria was done stage center, way downstage in spotlight. And, yes, we had Ms. Alkema splayed on the floor for her big aria, "Vissi d'arte." If given a chance to match her beautiful version of the aria with some heartfelt movement, it would have been even more enthralling.

The Kravis stage is enormous, the acoustics are superb, and I, for one, would have appreciated a bit more characterization from the leads than just standing there, holding hands for their heartfelt goodbye in act three. Everything does not have to be played on the lip of the stage. When that occurs, we are seeing more of a concert than a performance. I am sorry to harp on what one may consider to be minor details, but at the top of the opera, Angelotti has just escaped from prison. He appears, ever shiny, shoulder length hair of his perfect bob in place, in a cleanly pressed uniform, looking like he just had a spa afternoon, even though he is an escaped convict who, most probably, has been tortured.

The Palm Beach Opera, under the masterful leadership of Maestro David Stern, offered a rapidly paced, beautifully played evening. The singers were all good, and in the case of Mr. Chioldi, superb. I, for one, am looking forward to their next production, Bernstein's Candide February 23-25.

Tosca, ran January 26-28, 2018, at the Kravis Center, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach FL. For information and tickets for future performances, please call 561-832-7469 or visit their website at pbopera.org/.


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