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Utah Opera

IN GIACOMO PUCCINI'S TOSCA (seen Oct. 12), the iconic arias go to the soprano and tenor but in many ways the juiciest role belongs to the baritone. Michael Chioldi, as Baron Scarpia in Utah Opera’s season-opening production, had plenty of meat to sink his teeth into, and he did so voraciously.

During the first act, Chioldi’s oaken-toned voice thundered menacingly as he bullied his way into the church and dripped with cunning deception, during the Te Deum. His characterization, aided by director Kathleen Clawson’s dramatic vision, was chilling, especially during the violent Act II victimization of Tosca. But what made Scarpia’s attempt to extort sexual favors interesting was Tosca’s singular defiance to the man before whom all others cowered.

Kara Shay Thompson as the eponymous diva stood toe-to-toe with the sadistic police chief, rebuffing his advances and defying his ultimatums until she was finally brutally thrown onto a chaise. Singing with plush, exquisitely controlled tone and dynamic shading, Shay Thompson’s “Vissi d’arte” showed less vulnerability than usual, contradicting the libretto’s self-pity and surrender. Her phrases were etched with an underlying tenacity. 

Dinyar Vania as Cavaradossi did not match physically or dramatically well with Shay Thompson, but his solid tenor provided gleaming high notes during “Recondita armonia” and “E lucevan le stelle.” A detectable break between head and chest voice slightly muddled some phrases.

Kevin Nakatani’s substantial bass and deft dramatic abilities created an Angelotti that was more memorable than most, and Michael Wanko imbued the Sacristan with subtle idiosyncrasies that brought a welcome smile amidst the otherwise tension filled atmosphere.   

The production’s biggest treat came from the pit—members of the Utah Symphony Orchestra conducted brilliantly by Utah Opera favorite Robert Tweten. Quicksilver woodwinds and strings negotiated the score unerringly, and the band’s potent horn section capped thrilling climaxes. Tweten showed unerring sense of balance, blend and drama.

Ercole Sormani’s detailed, 3D painted drops, recently refurbished by Seattle Opera, gave this traditional production opulence. Susan Memmott Allred’s costumes and Yancey J. Quick’s wigs and make-up completed the detailed staging.    

The Utah Symphony Chorus, prepared by Melanie Malinka, and boys from Salt Lake’s Madeleine Choir School, gave the first act’s climatic ending sonorous grandeur.  —Robert Coleman 


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