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On April 12 and 13 Asheville Lyric Opera will present the Puccini opera Tosca at the Diana Wortham Theatre in Asheville, NC, cirected by David Carl Toulson and conducted by Dan Allcott. I attended the dress rehearsal; however, one wouldn’t have known it given the professionalism and talent displayed that evening. As a whole, the ALO delivers musicality and heart-wrenching characterization in spades. Starring Kathy Pyeatt as the titular Floria Tosca, this tragic tale is told in a most expert fashion. The opera was performed in its original Italian, with supertitles in English projected above the stage.
Tosca offers operatic vocalists many opportunities to express a deep level of characterization and heart-felt emotion, and from the very first scene tenor Stephen Mark Brown as the noble and flamboyant painter Mario Cavaradossi establishes just how true that is. Brown’s portrayal of Mario connects with the audience’s spirit from early on, continually establishing both his noble and proud spirit in his actions and his magnificent voice. The part of Mario calls for a wide and well established range of both emotional and musical acumen, portraying both his love for Tosca and his devotion to his friend Cesare Angelotti (portrayed by bass Dominic Aquilino) and willingness to sacrifice his life for justice. A defining moment of Brown’s talent is in the third act, in which he performs “E lucevan le stelle” (“And the stars shone”), when his character is sentenced to death. The sensitivity and musicality that he demonstrates truly connects with the audience, making them believe he is not simply playing the part of Mario, but he could actually be Mario.
The primary antagonist, Scarpia (portrayed by baritone Galen Scott Bower) serves as a convincing, dramatic foil to the character of Mario. Bower’s intimidating presence is most aptly demonstrated in the second act while he psychologically battles with both Tosca and Mario over the whereabouts of Angelotti. Bower portrays Scarpia as the cunning, conniving man he was most certainly meant to be, singing (and acting) in a terrifying, impressive way. In the same scene, Pyeatt’s true claim to the role of Tosca becomes crystal clear. As Tosca is begging that Mario’s life be spared, Pyeatt seems to truly feel the heartbreak Tosca is experiencing; it shows through both her expressions and her voice. She is a greatly talented individual, bringing to life a character who is asked to be jealous, pious, talented, love-struck, vindictive, and at times, even evil. There is a great deal of pride in the character of Tosca, and the poise with which Pyeatt carries the role makes it seem as though it was made for her. This performance of “Vissi d’arte” (“I lived for art, I lived for love”) is a stunning emotional display, letting the audience know that the proud Tosca is not immune to heartbreak or sadness.
Even though the primary characters do spend the majority of the time in the spotlight, the orchestra, the tech crew, and other cast members all demonstrate a great deal of professionalism and talent, making the Asheville Lyric Opera one of the best at what they do. Being the dress rehearsal, there were a few minor technical issues, but none of which took away from the performance. The sets all looked clean and remarkably well done, transforming the stage into something impressive and effective. Mr. Allcott in particular should be quite proud of the way he coordinates the orchestra and the vocalists, making for a seamless, immersive experience. This weekend, as well as many future performances by the ALO, will surely be top of the line.