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March 15, 2010

Annapolis Opera offers high-energy production of Puccini's 'Tosca'

Annapolis Opera's 37th season featured a production of Puccini's "Tosca" over the weekend that reconfirmed several things:

There will always be a valuable place for regional opera companies and the live-performance experiences they offer their communities; there are young singers around today capable of giving credible portrayals of challenging roles; economical sets that could be blown over by a good breeze can do the atmospheric job well enough (Arne Lindquist was the designer here); and in an age of stage director supremacy and theatrical concept-run-amok-ness, there's still something to be said for thoroughly traditional approaches (Braxton Peters directed).

Sunday afternoon's performance also reconfirmed a less positive, all-too-familiar fact --

the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts makes a lousy venue, especially for opera. With no pit, it's almost impossible to maintain proper balances between orchestra and stage, an issue extra problematic with a big score like "Tosca." I wonder if that difficulty caused the principals to keep pumping out the volume, as if they feared they wouldn't be heard otherwise.

Jonathan Burton, as Cavaradossi, proved particularly short on a dynamic range. It sure was enjoyable hearing such a healthy tenor voice, one that even boasted an effective ping at the top, but the constant full-throttle wore thin after a while. "E lucevan le stelle" and "O dolci mani" would have benefited greatly from a few truly soft edges.

Elisabeth Richter, in the title role, achieved more in the way of subtlety -- the last lines of "Vissi d'arte" were sculpted with considerable nuance and depth of expression (not to mention terrific breath control). There still were places when more varied and sweeter coloring would have been welcome, but this was nonetheless a solid performance, one full of fire (Richter spat out "Assassino" and "Quanto? Il prezo" with special venom). Like Burton's, the soprano's acting was old-school -- but there's still something to be said for that, too.

Although Jerett Gieseler needed a little more vocal wattage and tonal variety as Scarpia, his phrasing registered effectively. Ryan D. Kuster was the sturdy-voiced Angelotti. Andrew Adelsberger was a lively Sacristan, in voice and gesture.

Collin Powell sang the Act 3 shepherd boy's off-stage song nicely, but it was a major mistake to amplify it so heavily; this, needless to say, should be a distant, evocative sound that blends into the opening scene. (Speaking of mistakes, what was up with the portrait of the Madonna unveiled in Act 1? The figure was was depicted practically with her back to the viewer, rendering unlikely Tosca's comments about the color of the Madonna's eyes.)

The chorus summoned sufficient power for the Te Deum scene. The Annapolis Symphony Orchestra played sturdily and sensitively, for the most part, and Ronald J. Gretz conducted with an admirable interest in rubato and dramatic underlining.

On its own terms, then, a respectable, faithful, high-energy production.

Posted by Tim Smith at 3:27 PM | | Comments (1)


Sounds like the "Madonna" portrait was either a gag for those in the audience who were really paying attention, or a surreal commentary of some sort on Tosca's powers of perception. I mean, anything else would be a bit of a big freakin' goof -- and maybe that _is_ just what happened. :^)

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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