Tenor makes impressive debut in Lyric’s second-cast Tosca

Sun Jan 10, 2010 at 7:29 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Violeta Urmana and Marco Berto star in Puccini’s Tosca at Lyric Opera. Photo: Dan Rest

The Lyric Opera opened the season with a starry yet lackluster Tosca last fall, undone by an over-parted Deborah Voigt and a vocally miscast Vladimir Galouzine.

Sunday afternoon, the Lyric went for Puccini round two, opening its second-cast January run of Tosca with a new trio of principals and a different conductor. Yet despite a more Italianate cast and some worthy moments, this Tosca too proved a serviceable rather than memorable performance of Puccini’s shabby little shocker.

Short and rotund, Marco Berti doesn’t cut a very heroic figure, yet the Italian tenor was the clear standout Sunday, making an impressive company debut as Cavaradossi. While his instrument is lacking sweetness on top and some flexibility, it’s an undeniably imposing voice, rich and powerful with amplitude to spare. Dramatically, Berti showed himself a fine natural actor as well, giving us an engaged and deftly underplayed performance of the doomed painter-revolutionary.

As his beloved, the diva Floria Tosca, Violeta Urmana, in her belated Lyric debut, was a worthy partner to Berti. The Lithuanian soprano sang with greater security and ease of production than Voigt last fall, unleashing her gleaming soprano to bracing effect in the climactic moments. Yet while an estimable singer and skillful actress, Urmana rarely touched the heart, with a decidedly anodyne Vissi d’arte.

Lucio Gallo is Scarpia with Violeta Urmana in Tosca Photo: Dan Rest

Lucio Gallo as Scarpia proved the wild card Sunday afternoon. The Italian baritone is a gifted artist, but his voice is too light for this role, lacking menace and tonal heft. Dramatically, he etched a bracing portrait of the corrupt police chief, painting a more conflicted villain than usual, as in his impassioned Te Deum. Yet Gallo was decidedly underpowered in the big moments and his voice sounded dry and husky in the lower register.

Craig Irvin remains a superb Angelotti, while Dale Travis’s Sacristan is still a bit too broad for my taste. David Cangelosi is a fine addition, characteristically making the small role of the spy Spoletta into something more significant.

Taking over for Sir Andrew Davis, Stephen Lord was a steady presence in the pit, yet rather shorted the drama, with Act 2 a couple notches below where it needed to be in intensity. The Lyric Opera Orchestra, however, played gloriously.

Puccini’s Tosca runs through Jan. 29. www.lyricopera.org. 312-332-2244.

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