Tosca! The name has teeth for good reason. Puccini’s opera averages a death every 37 minutes. It includes 19th century Italian politics, the homicidal lusting of a Roman police chief, a jealous girlfriend, and a superfluity of hypocrites. This is distilled opera of few peers in the repertoire, and is often a final examination for companies on their way up. Opera de Montréal chose it for their first performance ever and reprised it for this past weekend’s 30th anniversary.
My Standard Opera Companion (sleepy edition) and I found row P to be full of other writers. This is a risky seating arrangement because critics are by nature competitive, and this has consequences: during Cavaradossi’s “O dolci mani,” we coughed and snorted and an older gentleman passed out trying to out-convey his disappointment.
The tenor David Pomeroy was the cause of our phlegm. He stands so well I am sure that he is a stand up guy but, as Cavaradossi the impassioned painter, lover of Tosca, and political rebel, he was a disaster. He parked and he barked, lazily trying to beat the audience into pleasure with his spatula of a voice.
Pomeroy didn’t shape his phrases, he belted them. Colouring? He belted. Emotion? He belted louder. He couldn’t even bother to look at the target of his singing, rotating his howitzer towards the audience instead. Perhaps he was not allowed to sing at people that close, but that does not explain why he mimicked an albatross with his arms. I was glad that several people shot him.
Otherwise the evening was magnificent. Nicola Beller Carbone was a girlish and occasionally undisciplined Floria Tosca, and she carried the part effortlessly even though her soprano lacked the attack one might expect from the diva. Her “Vissi d’arte” was beautifully crafted and almost weightless. Of course her scenes with Pomeroy were dismal, but in fairness that is asking someone to convincingly love a garden rake. Opposite baritone Greer Grimsley’s fantastic Scarpia, Carbone’s ample talents bloomed.
Grimsley was the evening’s standout as the villain. He played a verismo Scarpia and not the cut-out that one expects to hear, singing with subtlety and reserving his menace for good effect. Grimsley’s lecherous and venal chief of police was more horrible for seeming human. Creepy and a little sad, he was not really a demon but a man with too much power and pressed for time. His tone was firm and clear, a voice for giving orders.
The chorus and supporting parts were well sung, with Alexandre Sylvestre muddling his beautiful voice with buffoonery as the Sacristan and Stephen Hegedus a gawky but even Angelotti. Tosca reminded us that we are lucky to have had the OdM for this long, and the evening offered plenty of evidence the company has enough talent to thrive.
Paul Nadler lead the Orchestre Métropolitain with finesse, though occasionally a little quietly for my taste. The production reprises Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s literal, elaborate, and unsurprising 1972 set for the San Francisco Opera. I would take issue with Act Three’s ludicrous parapet but it is available to reserve privately for grand suicides and awkward sentry duty, and we are lunching there next week.
Tosca, Opera de Montréal at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, on tomorrow, February 3, and again February 6, 8, 11 and 13. For ticket information and other details, go to the Opera de Montréal site.
Photo Credit: Yves Renaud