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San Francisco Opera stages powerful, timely ‘Tosca’

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Carmen Giannattasio and Brian Jagde sing the lead roles in San Francisco Opera’s “Tosca,” the popular Puccini work that has appeared in 39 of the company’s 96 seasons. (Courtesy Cory Weaver/ San Francisco Opera)

It was almost exactly 95 years ago when San Francisco Opera staged its first of more than 175 presentations of Puccini’s “Tosca”; on Wednesday evening, the company introduced a welcome new production of the work and impressive soprano Carmen Giannattasio in her SFO and title role debut.

With the exception of the understandably somber and gray, almost Goyaesque Act 3 set that was dominated by a large, distracting statue, the neoclassical staging by director Shawna Lucey and set designer Robert Innes Hopkins was as colorful and lavish as Hopkins’ costume designs, which, along with the sets, were created entirely in SFO shops.

As celebrated singer Floria Tosca, Giannattasio masterfully added one of the exemplary roles of the soprano repertory to her roster of achievements as if it belonged there all along. She boasted a lush timbre, spotless vocal phrasing and dramatic heft, qualities evident from the get-go when she expresses devoted love for painter Mario Cavaradossi in Act 1, and again with melting and poignant beauty in the Act 2 showpiece aria “Vissi d’arte.”

San Francisco Opera may not have anticipated the current climate of high-profile cases of sexual predation against women when casting Giannattasio, but few dramatic sopranos would be better at conveying the character’s necessary combination of vulnerability and resolve. With convincing emotional intensity, her Tosca finally kills her tormentor Baron Scarpia, and then in a pathos-evoking denouement to Act 2, calmly walks away from the scene of the crime.

As Tosca’s lover Mario, tenor Brian Jagde was handsome, both vocally and in appearance, making for an alluring pairing with the entrancing Giannattasio. His sonorous, clear voice filled the house, and his top notes had particularly piercing power, culminating in a touchingly resolute rendition of the exquisite Act 3 “E lucevan le stelle.”

Energetic baritone Scott Hendricks provided rich vocal potency and poured dramatic fuel onto the fire as Scarpia, the feared police chief of Rome and arbiter of Tosca and Mario’s fates. He imbued unbridled virility into the role, a poster boy of the patriarchy who selfishly and cruelly gets his way. When Tosca asks Scarpia in Act 2 what price must be paid to spare Mario, Hendricks’ Scarpia answers with chilling resonance in his powerful “Gia mi dicon venal.”

In his SFO debut, conductor Leo Hussain guided the orchestra with a vigorous though nicely detailed account of the score, while Ian Robertson’s chorus was in fine fettle throughout.

REVIEW
Tosca
Presented by San Francisco Opera
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 2 p.m. Oct. 7 and Oct. 14; 7:30 p.m. Oct. 11, Oct. 17, Oct. 20, Oct. 23, Oct. 26 and Oct. 30
Tickets: $26 to $398
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com

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