Even though tenor Brian Jagde and baritone Mark Delavan towered over her, Lianna Haroutounian outsang them at San Francisco Opera's Sunday matinee of Puccini's “Tosca.”
In her San Francisco and role debuts, the diminutive Armenian soprano (well-known and acclaimed in Europe) filled the huge War Memorial Opera House with her lovely, effortless voice. Her projection and musicality were excellent, and diction and acting fair-to-middling. Her leap to her death from the top of Castel Sant'Angelo showed Olympic form.
Delavan, star of many big productions, including playing Wotan in San Francisco Opera’s 2011 presentation of Wagner’s “Ring,” was a disappointment as Scarpia, virtually marking (singing at half-voice) through most of the opera.
As Cavaradossi, Jagde (an alumnus of San Francisco Opera’s Merola and Adler programs, as is Delavan) fared better. He sang big, excelled in duets with Haroutounian, suffered well during the Act 2 torture scene and hit the ball out of the park with his exclamation “Vittoria!,” an exposed and repeated high note known to challenge (and be the glory) of many a tenor.
Jagde's Act 3 “E lucevan le stelle” (“And the stars were shining”) also was impressive.
“Tosca” is one of San Francisco Opera’s most frequently performed operas. This version, from 1997 with Lotfi Mansouri's staging, is based on the 1932 production, the very first in the War Memorial. Unusually, this 2014 production of the warhorse is being presented just five times, with three performances remaining.
Stage director Jose Maria Condemi, also at the helm in 2008 and 2012 at S.F. Opera, has added minor new touches to the proceedings (which unfold on Thierry Bosquet's slightly fading sets), but wisely refrained from changing the staging for the sake of doing something different – to good effect.
The same cannot be said for Riccardo Frizza's conducting, although the orchestra did its best. Even though Frizza has had modest success here with “Lucrezia Borgia” and “I Capuleti e i Montecchi,” his “Tosca” lacks the work’s required fire and excitement.
The conductor's shortcomings were especially obvious in the snail-paced Act 1 finale, the normally rousing Te Deum, and even more in the long introductory scene of Act 2, which was slow and sounded monotonous.
Presented by San Francisco Opera
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4 and Nov. 6
Tickets: $25 to $370
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com