When the Philadelphia Orchestra announced that its 2017-18 subscription season would close with a semi-staged performance of Puccini’s Tosca, it generated a level of excitement not often seen in past seasons.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin—the newly appointed music director of the Metropolitan Opera, and generally acknowledged as one of the four or five greatest opera conductors in the world—with his Philadelphia Orchestra on stage and a stellar cast of singers on a platform in the choir loft? What could be more enticing!
Yannick’s first choice for the title role, however, the Bulgarian Soprano Sonya Yoncheva, had succumbed to an ear infection, and had to be replaced at the last hour by Jennifer Rowley, who had just sung the role at the Met, and at many other venues, including the celebrated Semper Oper in Dresden.
It didn’t take long to see and hear why Ms. Rowley is considered one of today’s finest Toscas. Her voice is lustrous, with power and delicacy, and her acting is persuasive.
Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazov, as Mario Cavaradossi (and the real-life husband of superstar soprano Anna Netrebko), did advanced studies with Franco Corelli and soprano Ghena Dimitrova, and he sang with a ringing tenor voice in the Act I love duet, and later with a painfully-resigned sadness in the last act aria é lucevan le stelle.
The Italian baritone Ambrogio Maestri was a smarmy, wormy, sadistic Scarpia in a role seemingly made for him.
But it is The Philadelphia Orchestra in this performance that makes the first indelible impression – right at the very beginning of the opera, with a slashing orchestral iteration of Scarpia’s theme. It was stunning, and a hint of what was to follow.
I had the pleasure of working for the Met for nearly 15 years, saw many Toscas, and attended all the rehearsals for every performance, and I can honestly say that I never heard the orchestra sound like this.
The orchestra is, of course, a very important character in Tosca – it provides dramatic impetus, gives support to the singers, and increases the tension building on the stage. And Puccini wrote brilliantly for the orchestra, and I think he would have loved hearing a performance like this one. The Philadelphia Orchestra stole the show.
If you weren’t there, listen on Sunday for a performance that was, for this listener, one of a kind. You’ll never hear the orchestral parts played like this!
The rest of the cast was also superb, the Philadelphia Symphonic Choir was powerful and moving in the Te Deum at the end of Act I, and the Philadelphia Boys Choir was delightful and touching.
The last Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert broadcast of the 2017-18 season, and worth waiting for!
During intermission, WRTI’s Susan Lewis speaks with Jennifer Rowley and Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
That's Sunday, July 8th, from 1 to 4 PM, for the complete Tosca on WRTI 90.1, the WRTI Mobile App, and streaming at wrti.org.
Giacomo Puccini: Tosca
Act I -- Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle
Act II -- Palazzo Farnese
Act III -- Castel Sant’Angelo
Jennifer Rowley, soprano (Floria Tosca, a celebrated singer)
Yusif Eyvazov, tenor (Mario Cavaradossi, a painter)
Ambrogio Maestri, baritone (Baron Scarpia, Chief of Police)
Richard Bernstein, bass (Cesare Angelotti, former Consul of the Roman Republic)
Kevin Burdette, bass (A Sacristan)
Greg Fedderly, tenor (Spoletta, a police agent)
Federico De Michelis, bass-baritone (Sciarrone, a gendarme)
André Courville, bass-baritone (A Jailer)
Andrew Owens, boy soprano (A Shepherd Boy)
Philadelphia Symphonic Choir (soldiers, police agents, noblemen and women, townsfolk)
The Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor
Gregg Whiteside is producer and host of The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert broadcasts, every Sunday at 1 pm on WRTI 90.1, streaming online at WRTI.org, and on our mobile app! Listen again on Mondays at 7 pm on WRTI HD-2