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In Review > North America

Tosca

PORTLAND, ME
PORTopera
7/30/15

The buzz at the July 30 performance of PORTopera’s Tosca centered on the Scarpia of James Morris, who entered in Act I to a roar of applause from the 1,900-seat Merrill Auditorium. A seasoned Scarpia, with eighty-four Met performances of Tosca to his credit, Morris sounded in excellent form, and his fine bass-baritone made “Va, Tosca” the most frightening moment of the evening. Scarpia’s actions motivate the whole action of the opera, and Morris operated accordingly, knowing well that he did not need to work as boldly as the other performers. 

Buzz-worthy as Morris was, the most notable performance of the night was the thrilling Tosca of Alexandra LoBianco, a soprano with dramatic flair and clarion power throughout her range. LoBianco’s dark, mature sound commanded the drama from the moment she sang her first three “Mario”s offstage; throughout Act I, LoBianco was endearingly jealous, comically devout and passionately in love — though never excessively so. She maintained controlled hysterics in Act II, never straining nor pushing; her sole misstep was a forced forte at the final “così” of “Vissi d’Arte,” which was otherwise a demonstration of the skillful use of dynamics to propel an emotional aria.

Billed as a semistaged performance, there was little “semi” about the character portrayals of this Tosca. The artists were directed to brilliant effect by PORT artistic director Dona D. Vaughn, who made actors of all her musicians even in the little moments — most humorously, when the Sacristan tried and failed to genuflect before a saint’s statue. The action played in a small space in front of the orchestra with sparse set pieces: Act I utilized a saint’s statue and a small platform, on which Mario pantomimed painting, and from which Tosca would launch herself in Act III; Act II housed Scarpia’s dinner table and writing desk. The minimalism worked remarkably well. The costumes, by Millie Hiibel, were the only bit of puzzlement. Cavaradossi was dressed in seemingly traditional garb of the Rome of the early 1900s, equipped with trousers tucked into his high boots. In fact, all characters seemed to aim for period costumes, save for Tosca and Scarpia. For Act I, Tosca wore a modern black dress with an elaborately beaded waistband; in Act II, she changed to an A-line red gown. Scarpia wore a black tuxedo.

As Cavaradossi, Adam Diegel gave an impassioned performance. His Act I work was a bit questionable: his diction on his opening “Che fai” came out more as “Che fī,” and his excessive pushing of air on “Recondita armonia” resulted in some mishaps in his top register (though his high B-flat was glorious), causing wonder as to whether he was sacrificing support for gusto. But after his voice warmed up Diegel delivered an affecting “E lucevan le stelle” with a buoyant tone and his freest sounds of the evening. Thomas Hammons, hailed through the program as a “singing actor,” was just that: he brought out the comedy of the Sacristan while making an agreeable sound. Robert Mellon’s baritone was powerful as Angelotti, and tenor Lucas Levy was an animated Spoletta. Stephen Lord’s conducting propelled the score superbly, beginning with those famous opening chords. —Maria Mazzaro 

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