Tosca: Opera York. Artistic Director, Sabatino Vacca. Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts Nov. 5.
For many Toronto opera fans, Opera York (OY) may well be under the radar. In existence for about a dozen years, OY stages two productions annually of fully staged operas with orchestra, mostly of the standard repertoire. It’s located in the York Region north of the GTA, and performs in the intimate and acoustically friendly Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts Centre. I’ve been attending their shows for years. To be sure, their presentations are small-scale, and it would be unfair to compare OY to the COC. The singers are mostly (although not exclusively) local-area young professionals.
The fall presentation of OY this season was that Puccini warhorse, Tosca. I fondly recall seeing this the last time OY staged it seven years ago, with Albanian-Canadian soprano Mirela Tafaj in the title role, opposite the Cavaradossi of James Ciantar. This time around, it’s soprano Jessica Lane as the Roman diva, with tenor Romulo Delgado as the painter Cavaradossi. Baritone Nicolae Raiciu returns as Scarpia. The conductor once again is Sabatino Vacca. I caught the final performance last evening.
Given that we live in an age when Regie-driven productions seem to have taken over, this OY Tosca is a bit of a throwback. To be sure, there’s nothing strange or weird from Old School stage director Giuseppe Macina who directed this revival. No supernumeraries acting as prostitutes giving Scarpia oral sex in Act Two, or a dummy instead of Tosca leaping into midair at the opera’s denouement – I’m not joking, this scenario just happens to be one of many current productions onstage in one of the important opera houses. What we do get at Opera York is a very conventional, straight-forward story telling.
I recall the visually appealing set by Frank Pasian from seven years ago, quite a feat for OY, a small company on a shoestring budget. The set this time around was simpler, with a couple of glitches – like the wavy painting of Cavaradossi. That aside, it still served the drama effectively enough. Tosca requires three fine voices. The title role was taken by Canadian soprano Jessica Lane, a voice new to me. Her bright, powerful lirico-spinto turned steely in the dramatic moments like the five high Cs in the score, but she softened to deliver a well sung “Vissi d’arte.” She was partnered by tenor Romulo Delgado as Caravadossi, whose warm, clarion sound with an easy top was a pleasure. His “E lucevan le stelle” was a highlight of the evening. The third principal in this opera was Nicolae Raiciu as Scarpia. He sang a fine Roman Chief of Police seven years ago. Now his tone has lost some of its steadiness and power in the low register, requiring him to battle to keep the slow vibrato at bay. That said, he rose to the occasion and delivered a creditable Te Deum.
Elsewhere, veteran character baritone Douglas Tranquada once again delighted the audience with his characterful, nuanced — and scene-stealing — Sacristan. The chorus has always been a weak spot at Opera York, as evidenced by its tiny size of six or seven members plus three children. This is an area where the Company needs drastic improvement. Conductor Sabatino Vacca’s tempo was too leisurely to sustain the necessary tension. For some inexplicable reason, the audience sat on their hands even after a nicely sung “Recondita armonia” by the tenor, but thankfully they warmed up and gave the artists an enthusiastic ovation at the end.