Opera Review: Tosca

THE OPERA FESTIVAL: Tosca and Carmina Burana; Masada, June 4-5

‘TOSCA’ PERFORMED at Masada. (photo credit: YOSSI ZWECKER)
(photo credit: YOSSI ZWECKER)
Tosca, one of Puccini’s most intimate and tear-jerking operas, was hardly suitable for the grandiose venue of the Opera Festival at Masada.
Unlike previous Masada productions, however, Nicolas Joel’s direction and Emmanuelle Favre’s sets abstained from camels, horses and other multi-legged attractions, and concentrated on modest, minimalist staging in refined taste, distributing the choir asymmetrically all over the stage in crowd scenes. Tosca’s moving the candle holder to sanctify Scarpia’s murdered body, though, bordered on kitsch.
Among the singers, Sergei Murzaev was the Scarpia of one’s dreams. His dark-timbred baritone, forceful expression, stylized brutality and menacing intonation were the perfect personification of evil. His monologue in Act 1 was one of the performance’s highlights.
In the title role, Svetla Vasilleva’s uncommonly beautiful, clear and pure soprano tended to become too strained and metallic on the high notes, whether due to the distorting amplification or to her vocal technique.
She softened enchantingly in her aria Vissi d’arte that sounded profoundly emotional and moving.
Gustavo Porta’s intensely expressive lyric tenor made for a thoroughly persuasive lover, though he became sometimes too assertive.
In a minor role, as the Sacristan, Vladimir Braun’s sonorous bass-baritone sounded friendly and extremely appealing.
Conducted by Daniel Oren, the Symphony Orchestra Rishon Lezion’s playing was extraordinarily enthusiastic, flexibly attentive to the singers, and contributed remarkable tension and drama.
The horses that had been left unemployed in Tosca were released by the unemployment office for Carl Orff’s non-opera Carmina Burana. On the day following Tosca it came as an anti-climax – a pretentious Grand Spectacle, complete with pyrotechnics, aquatechnics and a would-be-sophisticated choreography that was not suitable for the deliberately unsophisticated music. The choreography, suggested by Orff as an option, but without precise instructions, consisted mainly of dancers purposelessly running from the stage’s right to its left, and also, for a change, from left to right. The musical elements only were performed at a high artistic level, by soprano Alla Vasilevitsky, counter tenor Alon Harari, baritone Enrico Marabelli, the Israeli Opera Chorus, the Ankor Choir and the Symphony Orchestra Rishon Lezion, conducted by James Judd.
To conclude, if Carl Orff is considered permissible for a prestigious venue in Israel, there remains no reason not to perform Richard Wagner, too.