Review: A Magnificently Grim and Passionate “Tosca”

Angel Blue as Tosca and Ryan McKinny as Scarpia in LA Opera's "Tosca" Photo: Cory Weaver

It’s no wonder that Puccini’s legendary three-act Tosca is of the most performed operas in the world. The amalgam of high-voltage ‘verismo’ drama, evocative melodies, and iconic setting makes it de rigueur viewing as evidenced by those who flock to see it again and again. The Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa are set to Puccini’s sweeping and melodious score, reaping some of the most recognizable and captivating arias in the canon, including the frequently recorded “E Lucevan le Stelle” and “Vissi d’arte.”

Angelenos were treated to a tremendously satisfying production by L.A. Opera back in 2017 with Sondra Radvanovsky, Russell Thomas, and Ambrogio Maestri in the lead roles; and we dare say that the current revival under the skillful wand of the astonishingly young Louis Lohraseb and starring the powerful triumvirate of Angel Blue as Tosca, Michael Fabiano as Cavaradossi, and Ryan McKinny as Scarpia is even more thrilling than before.

“This is a magnificently grim and passionate Tosca, one that reminds us why Puccini continues to hold us and future generations in his grasp.”

Soprano, Angel Blue, who created some headlines recently for dropping out of her performance in La Traviata at the Arena di Verona in Italy over a blackface controversy, is hands-down the star of the show. As the jealous but devoted titular character, Blue is a virago of emotions, astutely balancing coquettishness, rage, and even humor with impeccable timing, and of course, that sonorous voice! Tenor, Fabiano as her lover who puts himself in jeopardy by protecting his friend, and Bass-Baritone, McKinny as the diabolical (and in this version, an indisputably sexy) Scarpia, who is out to get him on the scaffold and her into bed, are not far behind. Indeed their voices, as well as that of Bass, Wei Wu (Angelotti) are breathtakingly resonant, a quality enhanced by Lohraseb’s proficient, never overwhelming conducting. Director, John Caird, making his L.A. Opera debut, has culled performances that are as much about perceptive versus showy emoting as they are about the voice, making this one of the most moving productions to date.

Ryan McKinny as Scarpia and Michael Fabiano as Cavaradossi, with Zachary James as Sciarrone, in LA Opera’s 2022 production of “Tosca”

For those with a disdain for minimalism, Bunny Christie’s scenery and costumes will deliver a much desired return to richness. The three sets corresponding to each act — the Church of Sant’Andrea delle Valle, Scarpia’s Palazzo Farnese apartment, and finally, the roof of the Castel Sant’Angelo, are moody and deftly detailed, conveying subliminal messages that testify Christi’s perceptiveness of the material. It can’t be coincidence that Scarpia’s loot includes the towering statue of Giambologna’s Abduction of a Sabine Woman, and Caravaggio’s The Crucifixion of Saint Peter — both thematically capturing the fates of Tosca and Cavaradossi. This is a magnificently grim and passionate Tosca, one that reminds us why Puccini continues to hold us and future generations in his grasp.

— G. Dhalla

“Tosca” plays at L.A. Opera through December 10th. Get tickets HERE.