Review of Tosca at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

    Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has assigned its artistic A-team to the company’s current production of Tosca. The stage director is OTSL’s artistic director James Robinson. The conductor is OTSL’s principal conductor Daniela Candillari. Their collaboration produces a superb fusion of music and drama.

    Candillari and the St. Louis Symphony bring out all the beauty and drama of Puccini’s great score. The balance between the pit and the stage is impeccable, and the musical flow has uncanny naturalness.

    As he has done throughout his tenure in St. Louis, Robinson elicits acting of the highest order from his cast. Katie Van Kooten gives Floria Tosca the magnetism and temperament of a diva and the vulnerability that makes her susceptible to the manipulation of Baron Scarpia, the corrupt chief of police.

    Robert Stahley portrays Tosca’s lover, the painter Mario Cavaradossi. His avowal of love for Tosca is so impassioned that it could not be doubted by anyone other than the jealous prima donna herself. Also beyond question is Cavaradossi’s devotion to liberty, which makes him risk everything to aid the escaped political prisoner, Angelotti.

    In public, Hunter Enoch’s Scarpia embodies the absolute power of his position. In private, he is in thrall to his appetite for violent conquest of women like Tosca. Enoch is equally convincing as both the enslaver and the slave to passion.

    Van Kooten, Stahley, and Enoch are in touch with every emotion in all their interactions, and their singing is gorgeous. The fine supporting performers are as committed to their parts as the principals. The cast includes Joseph Park as Angelotti, Titus Muzi III as the Sacristan, Adam Catangui as Spoletta, Kellen Schrimper as Sciarrone, Xiao Xiao as a shepherd boy, and Casey Germain as a jailor.

    Robinson’s fascinating production concept makes extensive use of projections designed by Greg Emetaz. The most important prop in Act 1 is Cavardossi’s still unfinished portrait of Mary Magdalene. The libretto indicates that the painting is initially covered by a cloth. At OTSL, the cloth runs from floor to ceiling.

    When the libretto calls for Cavaradossi to reveal the painting, the cloth remains where it is, and an enormous face is projected on it. The prominence given to the image is fully justified by its importance in the opera. The portrait is the cause of Tosca’s jealousy, which is the driving force of the plot.

    The projections again direct attention exactly where it ought to be when a striking video exposes the repulsiveness of Scarpia’s lust. Later, the fates of Scarpia and Tosca are depicted in mesmerizing videos.

    Projections on the rear wall help establish all the settings. The Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle is filled with lit candles for Act 1. The magnificent artwork of the Farnese Palace is the backdrop for Scarpia’s depravity in Act 2. The Castel Sant’Angelo, where Cavaradossi is imprisoned, and the view from its roof are projected in Act 3.

    Allen Moyer’s flexible scenic design works admirably for all three setting in conjunction with Emetaz’s projections and Eric Southern’s lighting, which conveys the darkness at the heart of the opera. The proper look for the setting—Rome in 1800—is established by Moyer’s costumes and the wigs and makeup by Krystal Balleza and Will Vicari.

    The entrance of the chorus and the children in Act 1 is a delightful interlude thanks to the ensemble, choreographer Seán Curran, and chorus master Andrew Whitfield. Greg Geffrard serves as both intimacy coach and fight choreographer. Given how Scarpia meets his end, combining these functions for production of Tosca could not be more appropriate.

    —Gerry Kowarsky

    Photo © Eric Woolsey
    Hunter Enoch as Scarpia and Katie Van Kooten as Tosca in Giacomo Puccini’s