Review: An Appealing New “Tosca” for San Francisco Opera, October 3, 2018

The San Francisco Opera unveiled its attractive new Shawna Lucey/Robert Innes Hopkins production of Puccini’s “Tosca”.

[Below: the Robert Innes Hopkins sets for the first act of Puccini’s “Tosca”; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

Carmen Giannattasio as Tosca

In her role debut and San Francisco Opera debut as Tosca, Italian soprano Carmen Giannattasio, who was a 2002 Operalia winner, was a revelatory Tosca. Portraying Tosca as Tosca as a young, self-centered woman, Giannattasio displayed the character’s contradictions. Tosca observes the rituals of a conservative church hierarchy, but is sexually active with Cavaradossi, a nobleman suspected of anticlericalism.

In Giannattasio’s portrayal, the second act aria Vissi d’arte, rather than a pause in a fast-paced drama, becomes an exposition of Tosca’s vulnerability, a transformative moment that makes her sudden determination to defend herself physically against Scarpia’s assault believable.

[Below: Carmen Giannattasio as Floria Tosca; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

I had seen Giannattasio perform the role of Alice Ford in Lee Blakeley’s production of Verdi’s “Falstaff” at the Los Angeles Opera. Alice Ford can be considered as an ensemble role and Giannatasio performed admirably as part of that ensemble.

Tosca, on the other hand, is one of the iconic leading soprano roles of Italian opera. Giannattasio clearly has the vocal power and dramatic instincts to make her own mark as Tosca.

Brian Jagde as Cavaradossi

New York tenor Brian Jagde, a former San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow and, like GIannattasio, an Operalia winner, had performed the role of Cavaradossi in the last two seasons (2012 and 2014)  in which “Tosca” was performed at the San Francisco Opera, Jagde was an obvious choice for the cast launching the new production.

Possessing a sturdy, dusky-colored spinto tenor, Jagde brought sustained lyricism to Cavaradossi’s two great arias, the first act Recondita armonia and the last act E lucevan le stelle, and power to his second act defiant celebration of a Napoleonic victory.

[Below: Brian Jagde as Mario Cavaradossi; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

I have been fortunate to have been present at Jagde’s role debut as Cavaradossi [see Echalaz, Jagde, Aceto Open Santa Fe Opera Season in Wonderfully Sung “Tosca” – June 29, 2012] as well as a San Francisco performance [Review: Lianna Haroutounian Triumphs as Tosca – San Francisco Opera, October 23, 2014].

An intelligent artist and actor, still in the early part of an important career, one expects the addition of other iconic spinto roles to his repertory in the next few years. [See Rising Stars: An Interview with Brian Jagde]

Scott Hendricks as Scarpia

Texas baritone Scott Hendricks played Scarpia as an aberrant villain who had confidence in his own ability to charm women into granting him sexual favors, but who preferred the use of force and violence to subdue them.

[Below: Scott Hendricks as the Baron Scarpia; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

I have admired Hendricks’ performances of such roles as Posa in Verdi’s “Don Carlos”, Amonasro in Verdi’s “Aida” and the title role of Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” at the Houston Grand Opera [see Review: A Praiseworthy “Eugene Onegin” in Robert Carsen’s “World Treasure” Production – Houston Grand Opera, November 1, 2015].

Hendricks’ Scarpia was a chilling portrait of incarnate evil.

Hadleigh Adams as Angelotti, Dale Travis as the Sacristan, Joel Sorensen as Spoletta and Other Cast Members

“Tosca” has three major and two smaller comprimario roles. New Zealand bass-baritone Hadleigh Adams, a former Adler Fellow, had sung the role of the Jailer in the most recent prior San Francisco Opera “Tosca” performance. As Cesare Angelotti, he switched sides from appartchnik of a corrupt state to revolutionary, in a vocal expressive, dramatically secure performance.

Adams, whose principal roles in San Francisco have included Schaunard in Puccini’s “La Boheme”, is deserving of even larger assignments in the future.

[Below: the escaped prisoner Cesare Angelotti (Hadleigh Adams, right) looks to the Mario Cavaradossi (Brian Jagde, left) for help; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

New Jersey bass-baritone Dale Travis – who was an Adler Fellow in the late 1980s – has performed in over 40 San Francisco Opera productions during the past 30 seasons. The role he has performed most often in San Francisco is that of “Tosca’s” Sacristan, appearing in that role in five separate seasons since 1992.

[Below: Dale Travis as the Sacristan; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

Ohio tenor Joel Sorensen is an invaluable resource to opera companies for several important “character tenor” roles, of which the Scarpia operative, Spoletta, is a prime example. Obviously accustomed to, though not unafraid of, the sadistic behavior of his lecherous boss, Sorensen’s Spoletta was masterfully conceived.

[Below: Joel Sorensen as Spoletta; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

Each of the smaller roles were impressively sung and acted by Adler Fellows. Michigan baritone Andrew Manea was Scarpia’s operative Sciarrone (that character’s relish in torturing Cavaradossi unconcealed). California bass-baritone Christian Pursell was the Jailer.

The shepherd boy was sung by San Francisco Boys Chorus member Zachary Zele (who is scheduled to sing five of the nine performances, alternating with Boys Chorus member Miles Kaludzinski, who sings the rest.)

Shawna Lucey’s Direction and Robert Innes Hopkins’ Sets 

I have praised Texas director Shawna Lucey’s revivals of John Copley’s San Francisco Opera production of Verdi’s “La Traviata” and especially of Robert Innes Hopkins’ Santa Fe opera production of Rossini’s “L’Italiana in Algeri [See Review: Santa Fe Opera’s Delightful “Italian Girl in Algiers” – July 25, 2018]”

[Below: the Robert Innes Hopkins sets for second act of Puccini’s “Tosca”; ; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

The San Francisco Opera has shown faith in Lucey’s obvious talents by entrusting a new production of the operatic perennial “Tosca” to her. Lucey clearly finds contemporary resonance in this tale of a woman from the year 1800 destroying a man in power who has used his position for his sadism and sexual appetites – be it Scarpia’s image of bel Mario swinging from a hangman’s noose or Scarpia’s determination to possess Tosca sexually.

Lucey has shown fidelity to Puccini’s essential stage directions, while imaginatively embellishing the action with such innovations as the appearance and arrest of the Angelotti’s sister, the Marchese Attavanti. It is testimony to Lucey’s directorial skill that all of the stage action flows logically.

British director Robert Innes Hopkins’s handsome new production effectively presents the different worlds of “Tosca’s” three acts. The brightly colored church of Act I, itself host to the dazzling costumes of the religious procession, masks that church’s role in suppressing societal dissent.

The elegance of Scarpia’s Farnese Palace apartments hides a torture chamber behind the opaque windows of an adjoining room.

The massive Act III sets are the open air courts above jail cells. In this space, the regime’s executions by hanging and firing squads take place. In a feature that reminds us of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s 1972 San Francisco Opera “Tosca” production, it is the backside of Vershaffelt’s statue of Archangel Michael that we see. (Lucey informs us that this allows the front side to be visible to the populace to terrify any would-be critics of the regime.)

[Below: Cavaradossi (Brian Jagde, below) awaits execution on the Castel Sant’Angelo landing below Vershaffelt’s statue of  the Archangel Michael; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

Although I personally was fond of the Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production that was eventually sold to the San Diego Opera, and have had the opportunity to see performances of all of the productions that have been presented at the War Memorial Opera House (Agnini, Ponnelle, Pizzi, Bosquet’s reimaging of Agnini, Hopkins), I’m satisfied that Hopkins is an effective production that will be a mainstay of future “Tosca” performances at this company.

Maestro Leo Hussein and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus

The San Francisco Opera Orchestra is unparalleled in performing Puccini’s works. I have in the past referred to the War Memorial Opera House as the “House of Puccini”, because of its open orchestral pit and resonant acoustics that provide a friendly home for that composer’s melodiously melodramatic music. The Orchestra performed Puccini’s intensely melodic music brilliantly. English conductor Maestro Leo Hussain in his San Francisco Opera debut, presided over the performance.

The San Francisco Opera Chorus, under the leadership of Scottish Chorus Director Ian Robertson, performed with distinction, especially in the immense choral passages of the first act’s Mass.


I enthusiastically recommend the new production and the cast of “Tosca” both for the veteran opera-goer and the person new to opera.