Hidden within the Riverside Church on Clairemont avenue is the Riverside Theatre, this is where the production company Amore Opera has set the stage for its production of Puccini’s “Tosca.” Just as the opera itself grapples with love, jealousy, and what lies beneath the surface of facades, Amore Opera’s production has faithfully upheld these themes through the artistry of the set and the power of its cast.
Tenor Jose Heredia excelled in the role of Mario Cavaradossi, capturing the audience not just with the bravura of his high B flats’s in “Recondita Armonia,” but the heartache found in Act III’s “E Lucevan le Stelle.” Heredia carried this power through the rest of the performance, setting the bar high while the rest of the cast played well off one another, leaving little room for the charge in the theatre to fade.
Soprano Dilara Unsal Ozkan brought with her all the passion and hot-blooded suspicion befitting the role of Floria Tosca. The sweetness which lingered after she sang “Non la Sospiri la Nostra Casetta,” was quickly set aflame as she recognized the woman whom Cavaradossi was painting. As she struggled against the machinations of Scarpia, Ozkan seized her moments to shine, delivering a haunting rendition of “Vissi d’arte.” As the curtains crept their way closed following the murder of Scarpia at the end of Act II, I was left with the strong sense of the tragic walls of the story closing in around her, foreshadowing her fatal fall at the opera’s finish.
Baritone Jonathan Green loomed large as Baron Scarpia, cutting an imposing figure in his entrance fittingly accented with frightened children. A far-cry from the kind smile displayed beside his name in the playbill, this was Scarpia as the loathsome manipulator he is. As he sang “Te Deum laudamus” the procession of the chorus of clergymen soon filled the stage, giving the surrounding impression of piety that Scarpia cloaks himself within.
The emotion that laid the groundwork for Act II was fully brought to life as passions clashed against plotting. Though Scarpia seemed to hold all the power as he tortured Cavaradossi physically and Tosca emotionally, the announcement of Bonaparte’s victory in battle soon reversed not the situation of the characters, but their responses to it. It is here where we are reminded that these characters are themselves the agents of conflicting parties and ideologies, and thus at the mercy of their allegiances.
While the singing-actors embodied their characters, the stage upon which they performed, set by artistic and stage director Nathan Hull, spoke much of the plot’s nature. In the Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle in Act I, we see the strong outer walls of the church’s façade alongside its interior. Here is where members of both factions can gather to confess each of their versions of the shared faith, as seen from the interactions between Cavaradossi and Gennadiy Vysotskiy’s Eusebe, who chides the former for his elevation of mortal women, and taunts him for his political alignment, but is not antagonistic to Cavaradossi. In the residence of Scarpia, set with finery to accent the dark walls, unfurl the most heated moments of the opera, such as Cavaradossi’s torture and the murder of Scarpia; here the dynamics of power change on a dime. In Act III the set is split between the prison of the Castel Sant’Angelo and its rooftop; the joining of heavy stones with metal railings pointing skyward emphasizes that this is a space with no way out but death. After Cavaradossi is shot dead and Tosca’s fate is sealed, she leaps to her demise on her own terms to join her beloved.
No doubt Amore Opera’s “Tosca” will leave audiences with much to relish as they depart through the pillared floors of the Riverside Theatre.