Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian’s American debut took place at the San Francisco Opera in the title role of Puccini’s “Tosca”.
Performing a role she was singing for the first time, her gleaming soprano filled the War Memorial Opera House. Her second act showpiece Vissi d’arte received the great ovation that one expects from San Francisco audiences for a first rank Tosca.
[Below: Lianna Haroutounian as Tosca; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Haroutounian was joined by two San Francisco favorites, Brian Jagde as Mario Cavaradossi and Mark Delavan as Baron Scarpia, with stage direction by Jose Maria Condemi.
This is the second lead role in a Puccini opera that Jagde has performed this year, his attractive spinto tenor lending weight to a new to San Francisco production of “Madama Butterfly” [See House of Puccini: Jun Kaneko’s Enchanting “Madama Butterfly” Soars at War Memorial – San Francisco Opera, June 15, 2014.]
[Below: the Cavalier Mario Cavaradossi (Brian Jagde) stands next to his painting of the Madonna; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Cavaradossi is a role that Jagde sang during the San Francisco Opera’s 2012 season, following his role debut in Santa Fe earlier that year [see Echalaz, Jagde, Aceto Open Santa Fe Opera Season in Wonderfully Sung “Tosca” – June 29, 2012.]
[Below: Mario Cavaradossi (Brian Jagde, left) assures Tosca (Lianna Haroutounian, right) that she has no reason to be jealous; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Like Brian Jagde, the Scarpia, Mark Delavan, is a product of San Francisco Opera’s young artists program, Delavan’s international career representing one of the many success stories of the San Francisco Opera’s investment in the training of future opera stars [See The Dawning of a New Wotan: Interview with Mark Delavan Part 1 and The Dawning of a New Wotan – An Interview with Mark Delavan, Part 2.]
[Below: the Baron Scarpia (Mark Delavan) is distracted by his lustful thoughts as the Swiss Guards lead the way for a papal procession; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Delavan’s stalwart baritone was effectively utilized for this inherently evil character, who is Rome’s chief of police during a period in which revolutionary forces are being suppressed.
Delavan’s Scarpia displayed both the dignity expected of a royal official, and, simultaneously, the lust and sadism that is manifested in his actions.
[Below: Baron Scarpia (Mark Delavan, center left) accuses Mario Cavaradossi (Brian Jagde, center right) of harboring a political criminal, as the police operatives Sciarrone (Efrain Solis, back, left) and Spoletta (Joel Sorensen, back, right) look on; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
The remaining cast members gave distinguished performances. The apparatchniki of the totalitarian state were sung by Joel Sorensen (Spoletta), Efrain Solis (Sciarrone) and Hadleigh Adams (the Jailer). The major first act comprimari were Scott Conner as Angelotti and Dale Travis as the Sacristan.
Italian conductor Riccardo Frizza presided over the San Francisco Opera Orchestra.
[Below: Tosca (Lianna Haroutounian, right) makes certain that she has killed the Baron Scarpia (Mark Delavan, left, on floor); edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Another important graduate of the San Francisco Opera Merola and Adler young artists’ programs, Jose Maria Condemi, returned as stage director for this classic production of “Tosca”
I have detailed my appreciation of the many facets of Condemi’s approach for staging this “Tosca” production [See House of Puccini: Striking San Francisco Opera “Tosca” with Pieczonka, Ataneli and Ventre – June 14, 2009 and A “Tosca” Surprise in San Francisco – Angela Gheorghiu, Melody Moore Split Role of Tosca, Massimo Giordano Excels as Cavaradossi- November 15, 2012.]
[Below: Tosca (Lianna Haroutounian, center left, standing on wall, prepares to jump to her death from the Castel Sant’Angelo; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
The sets are those of the 1997 production by Belgian designer Thierry Bosquet, who also designed the elegant costumes that reflect the upper class fashions of Rome at the turn of the 19th century.
The sets were inspired by the original Armando Agnini set designs for “Tosca” associated with the early history of the San Francisco Opera, including the performance that opened the War Memorial Opera House in 1932. Lit by ligting designer Gary Marder, they continue to impress.
In my reviews I have argued that the War Memorial Opera House is a felicitous place for performing the operas of Puccini, which mix sumptuous melodies for “power” voices with vibrant orchestral scores. The opera house’s lively acoustics and open orchestra pit work well for operas like “Tosca”.
I recommend this cast and production enthusiastically, both to a veteran operagoer and to a newcomer to opera.