By Giacomo Puccini
Presented by San Francisco Opera
At the War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, CA
Conducted by Nello Santi
Directed by Lotfi Mansouri

Reviewed by Judy Richter

After the hoopla of its opening gala Sept. 5, the San Francisco Opera continued to celebrate its return to the War Memorial Opera House by opening Giacomo Puccini's Tosca the next night. Because Tosca was the first opera staged in the Opera House when it opened in 1932, it is a fitting choice for the building's reopening after a 21-month, $88.5 million renovation and repair project.

In a further bow to history, this production generally reproduces that 1932 work designed by Armando Agnini. Artist Thierry Bosquet has recreated Agnini's sets and costumes and added some of his own designs to come up with a handsome production.

Even more handsome is the singing by the opera's three principals: American soprano Carol Vaness as Tosca, Canadian tenor Richard Margison as Cavaradossi and American bass James Morris as Scarpia. Vaness is marking the 20th anniversary of her SFO debut, when she was newly graduated from the SFO's Merola Opera training program for outstanding young singers. She has returned many times since then, but this performance is her best in recent memory. Although her gestures become a bit fussy, her singing is more controlled yet full of the passion of her character.

She is well-matched with Margison. His acting is fairly stock, but he has a powerful, ringing voice. Morris nicely underplays the villainous Scarpia, making him all the more chilling. His Act 2 scenes with Vaness are full of dramatic tension as Tosca's resistance to Scarpia's advances and her despair over Cavaradossi's suffering in the next room make him all the more determined and forceful.

Lesser roles are nicely sung by Canadian bass-baritone John Relyea as the fugitive Angelotti, Italian baritone Alfonso Antoniozzi as a youthful sacristan (Bojan Knezevic takes the role for the final six performances) and American tenor Joseph Frank as the sinister Spoletta.

Italian conductor Nello Santi's musical direction is generally compelling except for his tendency to take Cavaradossi's arias too slowly. Both the SFO Orchestra and the SFO Chorus acquit themselves well.

SFO General Director Lotfi Mansouri stages the action skillfully. Thomas J. Munn's lighting design shows Thierry's sets and costumes to good advantage in this fine production.

For more information, see the San Francisco Opera home page.

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Monday, 08-Dec-2003 21:44:33 PST