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SCRUTINY | Canadian Opera Company’s Revival of Tosca Earns Rapturous Ovations

By Joseph So on May 8, 2023

The Canadian Opera Company revival of Tosca (Photo: Michael Cooper)
The Canadian Opera Company revival of Tosca (Photo: Michael Cooper)

Sinead Campbell-Wallace, Stefano La Colla, Roland Wood, Christian Pursell, Donato di Stefano, Michael Colvin, Giles Tomkins, Alex Halliday, Zoya Avramova ; Giuliano Carella, cond. Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and Chorus; Four Seasons Centre, May 5, 2023. Continues to May 27; tickets here.

A week after the triumphal opening of Canadian Opera Company’s spring season with Verdi’s Macbeth, the Company followed it with a revival of Puccini’s Tosca. It opened on Friday, May 5 at the Four Season’s Centre in a production that first premiered in 2008, and was subsequently brought back in 2012 and 2017. The current run is its fourth in 15 years.

A search on Operabase, a website that keeps opera statistics, reveals Tosca as the 5th most popular opera in the world, as measured by the number of professional performances. It is estimated that there are approximately 30,000 operas ever written, with most of them forgotten, except for about 3,000 that are still performed with varying regularity. Tosca is hugely popular by any stretch of the imagination.

COC has had great success with this Puccini warhorse over the years with fabulous sopranos in the title role — and I speak from personal experience, having seen all revivals in the last 51 years, starting with the late Clarice Carson (1972). Whether it was a great voice like Martina Arroyo’s (1984) or riveting theatricality like that of the French soprano Sylvie Valayre (1996), they were all memorable. The current revival continues that tradition. The cast is very strong, with the two lovers new to COC audiences.

The fast-rising Irish soprano Sinead Campbell-Wallace was Tosca, combining fresh, youthful tone with a beautiful stage presence. Her Roman diva was endearing, passionate, and ultimately tragic. If I were to quibble, sometimes her vibrato could be a bit intrusive in fortissimos, making her sound not ideally focused. When she sang mezza voce, like in most of her aria ‘Vissi d’arte,’ her tone was lovely.

Her Cavaradossi was Italian tenor Stefano La Colla, also making his Company debut. He possesses a very impressive spinto tenor, a veritable trumpet of a voice, with squillo for days and all the money notes one would want. Perhaps not always subtle in its delivery, but given this is Italian verismo, it’s allowed! There was huge applause after a showstopping “E lucevan le stelle.”

Roland Wood as Scarpia and Sinéad Campbell-Wallace as Tosca in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Tosca, 2023 (Photo: Michael Cooper)
Roland Wood as Scarpia and Sinéad Campbell-Wallace as Tosca in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Tosca, 2023 (Photo: Michael Cooper)

Making a welcome return to the COC to take on Scarpia was British baritone Roland Wood, last heard as Gianni Schicchi in the livestreamed, pandemic production in 2021. A fine singer, his Scarpia was beautifully sung. His Roman Chief of Police was well acted and never vulgar. One could argue that his voice was almost too beautiful to be the evil Scarpia, but I’ll take a beautiful voice any day.

The minor roles were all well taken, particularly the Spoletta of Canadian tenor Michael Colvin, and the Angelotti of American bass-baritone Christian Pursell. And it was great to have Italian basso Donato Di Stefano returning to the COC to reprise his funny if very fussy Sacristan.

The Paul Curran production is pretty much conventional and quite beautiful, except for what passes for Castel Sant’Angelo in Act 3. A point of contention — the action between Tosca and Scarpia in Act 2 happens quite far upstage. The lack of a solid backdrop to push the sound forward into the auditorium, combined with a very loud orchestra, made the singers sounding smaller than usual.

Overall, the stage direction is quite conventional. Frankly, I would rather have that than any stage business that sticks out like a sore thumb. There are the occasional little touches, such as one Mr. Curran mentioned during our interview. I’m referring to the bit when Cavaradossi gives his ring to the Jailer (bass-baritone Alex Halliday) in exchange for pen and paper to write a last note to Tosca. In Curran’s direction, the Jailer gives the ring back to Cavaradossi, underscoring his humanity.

Making his COC debut was Italian maestro Giuliano Carella, who led the forces with grand gestures and a stately, expansive tempo. He coaxed wonderful sounds from the Orchestra. That said, his leisurely tempo did take away some of the dramatic urgency of the piece, so it’s a bit of a trade-off. The opening night audience loved it just the same, giving the artists repeated, huge ovations at the final curtain.

For the Tosca addicts, there are five more performances, on May 11, 13, 19, 21, 23, 27, including performances by the alternate Tosca, American soprano Keri Alkema on May 11 and 13.


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Joseph So
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