NYCO Renaissance Tosca

Cast of Tosca takes a bow
The NYCO Renaissance kick-start got the most awful divine intervention: a 28" blizzard that cancelled two of its performances. But maybe it was a blessing it disguise,  because this afternoon's final matinee performance of Tosca found all the singers vocally fresh, and with a large enthusiastic audience (many of whom had switched their Saturday tickets).

There's been a healthy dose of skepticism of the NYCO Renaissance project, and certainly its inaugural project was the definition of "playing it safe" -- does NYC really need yet another Tosca? But you know what? This afternoon's performance had an energy and enthusiasm that many tired revivals of Tosca at the Met in recent years have sorely lacked. Was it a great production? No. Were the singers perfect? No. But it was a thoroughly enjoyable, well-sung performance, and many recent Met performances have failed to live up to even that low standard.

Much of the performance's success was due to the Tosca of Latonia Moore. This soprano has a voice of remarkable beauty and purity. She's one of those singers where she just opens her mouth, and a large, creamy sound comes out. She's mostly known for her Aida, which probably suits her voice better -- she's not very comfortable with the verismo-style declamations and her temperament is a bit too placid for the Roman diva. But I'd be hard-pressed to remember a Tosca that was as beautifully sung. "Visse d'arte" was oddly not her best moment --she made some weird breathing choices which made the last phrases a bit choppy. It was in her duets with Cavaradossi (particularly "O dolci mani") where the inherent plushness and sweetness of her voice made Puccini's music sound ... well, better than it actually is. Her high C's in Act Two and Three were pitch-perfect. This is an A-list singer who for some reason doesn't have an A-list career, and I really hope that changes.

Her dramatic portrayal is a work in progress. She's not a stage animal and blood-and-guts verismo acting is probably not her thing. Her attempt at "rage" at the Lady Madonna was rather comical. Her stabbing of Scarpia was way too ginger, as if she were checking if the turkey was ready rather than actually killing someone. And she's one of those Toscas who takes that brief but oh-so-distracting pause before "falling" to her death. On the other hand there's a natural warmth and innocence to her Tosca that's very winning. Brava Latonia.

She had a great partner in Carlo Guelfi. The two of them sort of complemented each other -- Latonia has the Great Voice, Guelfi has the Great Acting. Guelfi's voice is like the opposite of Latonia's -- hard and gruff, and obviously aged. But Guelfi really knows what to do with the character of Scarpia. He knows exactly when to smirk, exactly when to feign a courtliness, exactly when to turn on the sleazy pervert act. I do wish his voice had more body and tone in Te Deum.

Raffaele Abete (Cavaradossi) oddly sounded exactly like a traditional "NYCO tenor" of yore -- he was cute, with a light, lyrical, and slightly generic voice. He's very young and I don't know if his voice will develop. As of now it's smallish and probably not ready for the larger houses. He kind of came to grief in the long-breathed phrases of "E lucevan le stelle." But thoroughly competent, pleasing, professional performance, and very natural acting too.

All the supporting roles were very professional, as were the children's chorus and orchestra. The only sore spot -- a shepherd boy who forgot to make his entrance and only sang the last few lines of his little song. Pacien Mazzagatti was actually outstanding in the pit -- I assume he was working with a reduced orchestra, but his conducting was lively and also sensitive to each singer.

Act Two Hohenstein designs

The production by Lev Pugliese claims to recreate the original sets/costumes of Adolf Hohenstein in the 1900 premiere. How well this concept was executed is anyone's guess -- Hohenstein isn't around to critique. The small stage of the Rose Theater however limited this concept -- the painted drops were rather flimsy looking. Scarpia's apartment in Act Two was maybe the weakest set -- the drops flapped visibly and it was way too pastel, like something Marie Antoinette would have designed for herself at Le Petit Trianon. Hohenstein designs (seen above) do seem to show a lot of blue and gold, but I doubt the actual sets were nursery-yellow and baby-blue, which is how the NYCO recreations looked. Some of the costumes looked rather cheap -- they could have used more velvet, less polyester.

The direction was adequate -- I mentioned how Latonia needs stabbing lessons, but someone also should have given the directors a forensics lesson. They decided to execute Cavaradossi from behind at close range -- there would have been exploding skulls and much more splatter. Instead Cavaradossi fell bloodlessly to the floor. It's not a production for the ages, but compared to the ugly, industrial, massive Luc Bondy production at the Met, there was a simplicity and directness about this production that I liked.

The future of new-NYCO remains unclear, and certainly they have an upward battle ahead -- right now they're being heavily funded by the Neiderhoffer Family Foundation. It's unclear if this project is financially or artistically viable. I'd say they're off to a good start though -- I was only at one performance, but was already impressed with their attention to musical values. The painted drops might have flapped like shower curtains, but the singing was solid.


  1. Latonia Moore is a revelation to hear onstage, and I hope to see and hear more of her in future. Thanks for sharing your observations on this production.

  2. Ivy, it sounds like this was the better of the two casts, notwithstanding Moore's lack of dramatic fire. I attended on opening night: the singing was not good (the Cavaradossi okay except above the staff, the Tosca shrill and only adequately acted, the Scarpia bellowing and overacting) and the orchestra had a pretty sound but the conducting was very dull.

    A friend saw the same cast Friday night and said it seemed to be a much better show.

    1. Yes I have a friend who saw both casts and said the second cast was the much superior one.


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