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OPERA REVIEW

In 'Tosca,' much stumbling precedes a great fall

November 17, 2005|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

OPERA PACIFIC'S "Tosca" may have the best suicide leap in the business. The borrowed Opera Company of Philadelphia production of Puccini's beloved melodrama, which opened a four-performance run Tuesday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, carefully prepares for this climactic moment in the heights.

There's the customary scaffolding for the hero, painter Mario Cavaradossi, in Act 1. But the villain Scarpia's usually finely furnished room in Act 2 is being renovated, and a tall ladder is propped against an exposed brick wall -- presumably so workers can complete the Michelangelo-like frescoes elsewhere on the walls. It subtly ups the vertical ante.

Then, in Act 3, the top of the Castel Sant'Angelo, where Cavaradossi is executed, boasts a huge crane and scaffolding supporting the statue that gives the castle its name. This scaffolding's real purpose, however, is to provide the titular heroine with an even higher location from which to jump.

And her jump -- about 18 feet -- is realistic and breathtaking. It was actually done Tuesday by stunt double Elle Alexander, who ungraciously gets no credit in the program book. It was also the most genuine thrill of the night.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday December 01, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Opera Pacific singer-- A music review in the Nov. 17 Calendar Weekend section misspelled the last name of Andrew Fernando, who sang the role of the Sacristan in Opera Pacific's "Tosca," as Fernandez.

Otherwise, the main problem with the performance stood on the podium. Christian Badea, who led Puccini's "La Boheme" for the Santa Ana-based company in 1998, overconducted and micromanaged everyone, instrumentalists and singers alike.

This might not have been so unfortunate if Badea had revealed any insight into Puccini's supreme sense of lyric ebb and flow. Instead, he drove relentlessly through most of the score, whether love music, Scarpia's sadistic self-revelations or Cavaradossi's heroic cry of victory.

It was all turbo-drive. No wonder the singers never dared take their eyes off him for more than a few seconds.

Director Garnett Bruce kept the action moving in reasonably straightforward fashion, although he introduced a few distracting ideas. In the opening scene, for instance, Angelotti -- the political prisoner whose escape propels the plot -- kept appearing like a jack-in-the-box whenever his theme music recurred. He's supposed to be hiding.

Cesar Hernandez, who stepped in for an ailing Carlo Ventre, sang the tenor role of Cavaradossi with a hefty, baritone-like timbre, a bit reminiscent of the famed Placido Domingo sound but without the thrilling top notes. His acting was stolid.

Doina Dimitriu, on the other hand, was one of those powerhouse Toscas who are willing to sacrifice beauty of tone and even accuracy of pitch for dramatic effect. But she did look beautiful as the mercurial, tempestuous diva and delivered as much life to the role as she could within the conductor's straitjacket limits.

Richard Paul Fink was a snarling, ever-loud Scarpia who was permitted to show no sophistication, only his bestial appetite.

Of the secondary characters, Andrew Fernandez as the Sacristan dominated the opening scene. Los Angeles Opera's John Atkins, who recently changed from baritone to tenor, was a menacing Spoletta.

John Lehmeyer's costumes are attractive, and James T. Sales' lighting is effective. Boyd Ostroff created the sets.

The opening night cast is scheduled to sing this evening and Saturday night. Victoria Litherland and Kip Wilborn are to take over the roles of the lovers Sunday afternoon.

*

'Tosca'

Where: Opera Pacific at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: 7:30 tonight and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday

Price: $27 to $191

Info: (714) 556-2787 or www.ocpac.org

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