Categories: Arts

‘Tosca’ is West Bay’s miniature grand opera

The West Bay Opera’s new production of Puccini’s “Tosca” brilliantly exemplifies how talent and passion supercede size when it comes to great works of art.

While the company and the venue (the 400-seat Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto) are small, the production is big, grand and righteous. Opera lovers should stampede to the remaining two performances.

Linking Puccini’s varied tempi and dynamics seamlessly, music director Jose Luis Moscovich, conducting “Tosca” for the first time, presides over urgent, passionate surges of music in one of the most melodious of all operas.

Even for veterans who have seen and heard the glorious warhorse dozens of times, this show is a joyous experience. And there could be no better introduction to opera for newcomers.

Despite small resources and a small stage, there are maximum results. The 23-musician orchestra sounds great (lacking only an occasional true fortissimo that requires a band twice as big) and the 30-voice chorus channels the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Same goes for the set and production designs by Jean-Francois Revon and Frederic O. Boulay, who amazingly created the interior of a huge Roman church, the Farnese Palace, and the roof of the Castel Sant’Angelo on a 26-by-36-by-16-foot stage.

Lisa Lowe’s luxurious costume design belies the company’s financial resources, and Richard Harrell’s stage direction is praiseworthy for its simplicity.

Moscovich’s casting — two impressive principals and one singing sensation — is also noteworthy.

Mighty-voiced Philip Skinner, as the hulking, purely evil Scarpia, gives a star performance that would earn ovations in any opera house. (Never mind his wig, something even Donald Trump wouldn’t wear.)

In the title role, Stacey Stofferahn is reliable and assured. “Vissi d’Arte” (“I lived for art”) was pushed a bit — the power is inherent in the aria and doesn’t need extra effort — but she is nonetheless solid and winning. At the end of Act 2, after she dispenses with Scarpia (I wish he could have kept singing), Stofferahn phrased her lines in a special way, conveying shock, triumph and sorrow.

David Gustafson as Cavaradossi bravely overcame obvious respiratory problems, and his post-torture exclamation of “Vittoria!” was full-throated and powerful.

Fine performances by Carl King as Sacristan, Nadav J. Hart as Spoletta and Joseph Cudahy as the Shepherd Boy (alternating with Brian Ho in the role), nicely rounded out the Sunday matinee.

Review

Tosca

Presented by the West Bay Opera

Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $40 to $75

Contact: (650) 424-9999, www.wbopera.org

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