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Tastes like chicken

May 22, 2008

Juan Pons, Adrianne Pieczonka, and Neil Shicoff
Photo : Robert Millard/LAO 2008

It’s difficult to get excited about Los Angeles Opera’s current production of Tosca, which opened on the 15th of May and I saw on the 21st. Of course, in some ways it fits right in, considering that this has been a season full of productions just like it here in L.A. (with the notable exception of Karita Mattila in Jenůfa and Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg). In fact, there was apparently so little media interest in this revival of Ian Judge’s well-worn 1989 staging that, in a bid to generate a little ink beforehand, the company borrowed jewelry Maria Callas wore for her debut in the title role at the Metropolitan Opera. Adrianne Pieczonka, the first of two Toscas in this run, is an attractive woman and handles the gaudy out-of-date costume accessory with aplomb. Given the number of seats I saw at this Wednesday matinée performance, however, such early press may have been more necessary than I would have thought.

Judge’s rather claustrophobic approach to the piece still seems non-sensical in too many places. Why is Cavaradossi painting Mary Magdalene's portrait on the floor? Surely even the Italians had heard of easels by the time of the opera’s setting. Putting this silliness aside, there is always the hope that the performances will be engaging, and the current cast is certainly not shabby (if more so for 1995 than 2008). The “newest” member of the cast is Pieczonka and she is serviceable and delivers a well-sung Tosca. Her acting is not totally convincing, but there are plenty worse, and she handled the vocal chores with apparent ease. Juan Pons, the best of the three principals, performed Scarpia and seemed to relish his villainous role with glee but never overplayed his hand. Cold without being comical is not as easy as you might think on an opera stage.

Then there was Neil Shicoff who was last seen in L.A. in the same role in the same production when it first appeared in 1989. I was not in the house that night but can imagine that he has become quite a different performer since then. I personally was not taken with his performance at this stage. He seemed aloof and disinterested at times and, while his power and high notes were excellent, his middle range seemed pitchy to me, and I kept thinking he was going to crack – in the bad way. The music bubbled along at an appropriate pace under Sir Richard Armstrong and delivered its thrills without any big new revelations. So it was not a bad evening, just not one that's likely to stick to your ribs.



Thanks for the review Brian. I was wondering weather or not to go. I'll be going to Opera Pacific's Susannah instead.
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