Composer: Giacomo Puccini
Conductor: Vincent La Selva
Director: Roberto Stivanello
Flora Tosca: Claire Stadtmueller
Mario Cavadarossi: Alejandro Olmedo
Baron Scarpia: Raemond Martin
My first and still favorite opera, Tosca is fortunately for me performed far and wide and often, so getting my regular fix when I need to has never been too complicated. But despite various venues and different casts, I had never come even remotely close to hearing it outdoors… or for free. Well, now I can tell that this has been taken care of last night courtesy of New York Grand Opera in the Naumburg Bandshell of Central Park on a deliciously breezy summer night.
Granted, the Naumburg Bandshell, for all its historic, cultural and social significance, is not the Verona Arena, so the music and singing had to be amplified. Major bummer. Additionally, free admission did not mean democratic admission, and there were plenty of mysteriously privileged attendees who had priority over the seats. And there, of course, always is a part of the audience that will treat an outdoors performance as a social event with fancy background music and cannot seem to be able to stop their conversations – with their companions or over the phone – simply because there’s something possibly exciting happening on the stage. But anything for Tosca.
Although the sets and the costumes were neither lusciously opulent nor interestingly creative, they were certainly serviceable and probably some welcome help in situating the action for those that were not familiar with the story. A lot was actually accomplished with a relatively small stage and what are probably fairly modest means.
Because everybody was miked, and technical devices do not come without the occasional technical glitch, it was hard to assess the actual musicianship level of the performers. Puccini’s famously dramatic score and show-stopping arias were all there, just not in their purest, most gripping form. Regardless, singers and orchestra sounded rather competent and managed to get the job done. But I still can’t figure out, for example, if Alejandro Olmedo’s congested singing in the first scene came from some unpreparedness on his part or some technical snafu. Whatever caused it, it regretfully spoiled “Recondita armonia”.
On the other hand, there was something truly magical about hearing “E lucevan le stelle” under a dark blue sky filled with actual shining stars and a luminous half-moon. And to top it all off, just as Tosca was taking her fatal leap from the Castel Sant’Angelo after all hope had been lost, as if on cue, a helicopter suddenly appeared and started hovering over us, adding an unexpected sense of urgency to the consummate tragedy. I am not sure what Puccini would have thought of that, but it certainly turned this Tosca in the Park into a unique experience.