Tosca is back at Los Angeles Opera. British director John Caird’s well-travelled production, first shown here in 2013, has been revived. The cast, led by the popular Los Angeles native Angel Blue, as well as the conductor and production team are almost all familiar. Saturday night’s performance at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the first of five through December 10, was impressively sung, if theatrically conventional. The needle on the E-Meter, which measures how far the art form of opera might have evolved that evening, didn’t budge.
The audience was well dressed, some even flamboyant. The line at the break bar, where a drink and a bag of potato chips plus a tip could cost almost as much as the cheapest seat, was long. It was, in the disparaging public perception, an elitist evening at the opera. As if he had just such a ‘Tosca’ in mind, Arts Council England leader Darren Henley last week made the scathing suggestion of what it takes to make opera and defended the recently debased business-as-usual Opera in the UK is modern and accessible, taking it from the opera house to the people in their pubs and car parks. Otherwise the art form dies.
Maybe the needle did move on Saturday, but not in the direction Henley was talking about. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to stay in the music center’s underground car park and have the opera delivered to their car. As for the pubs, I have a feeling they don’t want the opera any more than the opera wants them.
What struck me on Saturday night was the sheer joy the audience took in being in an opera house for an opera, in a world that felt like a welcome escape from the ordinary for three hours.
And wait a minute, this seat, which was the price for drinks and small bites, happened to be $27, and it’s on the top balcony where the acoustics are often the best. My colleague Mikael Wood, recently reporting from Las Vegas, remarked that the cheapest place to hear Adele in what is considered an intimate space for pop music is a theater that seats 1,000 more than the already oversized Dorothy Chandler, 800 Dollars, twice the top price for “Tosca”. Reports are circulating that a single seat at the inhumanly huge SoFi Stadium for the final night of Taylor Swift’s performances next summer could buy an entire balcony at the Chandler.
Perhaps the more intriguing question with this Tosca was: how important is operatic progression? LA Opera is not indifferent to new, relevant and challenging work. Earlier this year, the company boldly presented Bach’s “St. St. Matthew Passion” by the Hamburg Ballet and premiered the new opera “Everything Rises” by Du Yun. Last month it hosted the West Coast premiere of “Omar.”
Puccini’s opera, written in 1900, can also be meaningful modern theater with its vivid depiction of political oppression and sexual abuse. A spooky Dutch National Opera production by director Barrie Kosky, available on medici.tv, is so disturbing it’s almost guaranteed to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.
However, Caird’s Tosca is taking no chances. When it was first shown here, the realization was that you should come for the singing, not the staging. That still holds true, although the three lead singers have proven to be talented actors. The star attraction is Angel Blue, who attracted attention as a student at UCLA and as someone rising through the ranks of LA Opera. Now an international star, she returns to LA for her first starring role with the company.
In director Christopher Honoré’s stunningly original production of Puccini’s opera at the 2019 Aix-en-Provence Festival, Blue starred as a young singer learning the role and captured the audience’s imagination in a new and moving way. This time, however, she has little opportunity to create a character. Your movements are unnatural. She’s there to sing, letting the music carry the drama. She pours her heart out in the opera’s most famous aria, “Vissi d’Arte,” a lament against the world in which she gave everything for art and humanity, only to find herself in the clutches of the lustful, merciless police chief Scarpia in Rome early 19th century. That she sings great is the only thing that matters.
Michael Fabiano reveals himself as a characteristically vibrant tenor but uncharacteristically wooden Cavaradossi. Ryan McKinny—another LA native who has been impressive in modern opera (whether it’s Andre Previn’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” or John Adams’s “Doctor Atomic” and “Girls of the Golden West”)—is asked to be a polite , elegant monster, a Scarpia who, like many sexual predators, is not out for sex but for conquest. However, Puccini was in for the sex.
All of this takes place in an impressively imposing war-torn set, another dwarfish action. The smaller roles are handled well. Deepa Johnny stands out as a shepherdess with a particularly beautiful voice.
Health problems forced the cancellation of exciting Ukrainian conductor Oksana Lyniv, who was due to make her LA Opera debut. Louis Lohraseb, an aspiring young conductor who conducted the LA Opera’s Halloween screening of “Psycho” with live orchestra three years ago, encouraged the instrumentalists to use a more robust sound and seemed more attuned to the needs of the singers to serve as power to theatre.
Is that enough? Nine years ago that might not have been the case. The world has changed. “Tosca” may have become more relevant, but we also have more need for beauty for its own sake in our bombardment of relevance. Thanks are due to an audience who enthusiastically watched the performance and showed effusive appreciation. For the sake of opera’s survival as an art form, I wish Henley and his condescending arts council could have been there to testify that the music center’s garage wasn’t actually the attraction, but more of an escape.
LA Opera’s Tosca
Where: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 S. Grand Ave., LA
When: 2 p.m. Sunday and December 4; 19:30 1st, 7th and 10th Dec (Gregory Kunde is Cavaradossi 7th and 10th Dec)
The information: (213) 972-8001 or laopera.org
Duration: 2 hours, 45 minutes
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-11-23/review-an-l-a-opera-tosca-thats-more-than-it-seems Angel Blue stars in new L.A. Opera ‘Tosca’