Soprano shines brightly in Lyric’s dark, second-cast “Tosca”

Sat Feb 28, 2015 at 4:39 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Jorge de Leon and Hui He in Puccini's "Tosca" at Lyric Opera. Photo: Michael Brosilow.
Jorge de Leon and Hui He in Puccini’s “Tosca” at Lyric Opera. Photo: Michael Brosilow.

On another bitterly cold night in Chicago, a bit of Puccinian warmth was definitely welcome.

Not that there’s much warm fuzziness on hand in this season’s downbeat production of Tosca at Lyric Opera. On Friday night, Puccini’s “shabby little shocker” returned for its second-cast performances, which will run through March 14.

Tatiana Serjan made a remarkable company debut in January, bringing a vulnerability and layered emotional depth to her portrayal of the title diva that set the bar high and raised the entire show above the moments of excess.

In the early going Friday night Hui He seemed a bit off her game. Her rich, gleaming soprano sounded short on flexibility in Act I and her acting was stiff and stagy in the love scenes with Jorge de Leon’s Cavaradossi.

The Chinese soprano–who made an impressive Lyric debut as Aida in 2012–sparked to life after the first intermission, bringing greater dramatic fire to the beleaguered victim of Act 2. She rose to the occasion with a refined and resplendent “Vissi d’arte” that proved the high point of the evening and justly earned a prolonged ovation.

He’s acting seemed like Maria Callas alongside Jorge de Leon’s rudimentary Cavaradossi, which largely adhered to old-fashioned stand-and-deliver. The Spanish tenor compensated somewhat vocally in his company debut, displaying an ample, commanding instrument and resounding top notes. Too bad he didn’t wield it with more subtlety or finesse, throwing out stentorian, can-belto accounts of his two arias.

Scarpia is a role Mark Delavan has sung many times and his long experience showed in a fine performance. Delavan’s burly baritone is a bit lacking in heft, especially in the low range, but at least he brought some much-needed fun and spontaneity to this dour staging—kicking in the door of his torture chamber and greedily licking Tosca’s tears off his fingers with a “Not bad!” expression. It was also a plus to have the terrific David Cangelosi on hand to reprise his oily, odious Spoletta.

Sadly, the production still suffers from director John Caird’s intrusive insertion of a phantom of Tosca as a young girl, a bit of unwonted overreach that never should have made it out of rehearsal. Apart from that, the bleak staging mostly plays it straight, which is more than can be said for Lyric’s concurrent Tannhäuser, which corners the market on revisionist postmodern cliches.

Conductor Dmitri Jurowski showed somewhat firmer grip and greater incisiveness than when this production opened in January. Still, there were too many moments of slackness and miscoordination between the stage and the pit. Riccardo Muti was sitting in the first row Friday night and one wanted the CSO music director to grab the baton from the young Russian and show him how Italian opera is done.

Tosca runs through March 14.; 312-827-5600.

Posted in Performances

4 Responses to “Soprano shines brightly in Lyric’s dark, second-cast “Tosca””

  1. Posted Feb 28, 2015 at 6:44 pm by Dan

    Mr. Johnson, I have to disagree with you in regard of the conductor Dmitri Jurowski. I think he did a brilliant job and with all my respect to Maestro Muti, the last Tosca I heard with him in Italy was a real mess and could never compete with the tenderness and love I heard yesterday from the young Jurowski. You probably should travel a bit outside of the States. Then you surely could realise that your feeling about this interpretation is a wrong one.

  2. Posted Mar 01, 2015 at 11:39 am by Harold Kupper

    To Dan,

    Jurowski is not without talent but is almost entirely lacking in a true understanding of the Puccini style. He’s emotionally inert on the podium, indulges in extreme glacial ritards where none are indicated in the score, has trouble coordinating with the singers and worst of all lets almost every phrase wither and die by the final cadence.

    I’ve spoken to many of the experienced players in the Lyric orchestra who think that he’s probably the least capable conductor they’ve seen in at least two decades. You’re feeling about his interpretation is not shared by musicians who have played dozens of performances under many fine maestri. You’re just wrong.

  3. Posted Mar 01, 2015 at 8:58 pm by Dan

    Mr. Cupper,

    well it’s my opinion and I heard more then 100 different interpretations of Tosca over the past 30 years. You should know that a conductor who doesn’t jump on the podium is not really “emotionally inert”. Of course most of the rubato is not written in the score of Puccini. It’s the feeling of style. Someone like Serafin, Erede, Muti did even much more of it.

    Jurowski is a great conductor who does amazingly R. Strauss, Wagner. His Elektra last season was just superb. His Tristan in Belgium was a real highlight according to New York Times. Of course his Puccini is not typically Italian which I think is normal.

    I don’t know who are the musicians you were talking to but I heard almost every opera in Chicago over the past 19 years and I can assure you, Jurowski is one of the most talented musicians of his generation and the Lyric Orchestra rarely sounded with such an inspiration. I really hope he will be reinvited and you can experience him in “his” repertoire.

  4. Posted Mar 04, 2015 at 11:25 am by Harold Kupper


    Shouldn’t one expect a conductor’s Puccini to be typically Italian (whatever that means)?

    Jurowski’s is definitely not normal in any sense of the word. He’s actually much better with the second cast because the singers are moving things along and he’s following them reasonably well. He’s an indifferent accompanist because he’s always reacting late to the stage instead of anticipating and giving clear and incisive direction.

    Typically Italian to me means giving life and direction to a phrase so that when there is rubato it has sense of proportion, it’s not just getting slower. This was the case with Butterfly last year with Armiliato where every single phrase was beautifully shaped and the musical “line” was never distorted. Just my opinion.

    Actually, Puccini is very clear on exactly where a molto meno or a ritenuto or a sostenendo or allargando or stentando occurs. I would be very interested to hear him in other repertoire because as I said, he is not without talent. I also agree that he drew a lush attractive sound from the Lyric orchestra and that he was sensitive to the balance between the stage and the pit. It will be interesting to see his progress.

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