Titanic Tosca!

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Tue, 2015-10-13 05:46

In my profile of Simon O'Neill, When a Cover-Up Is a Good Thing, written before New Zealand Opera's production of Tosca had opened in Auckland, Mr. O'Neill (hereinafter to be referred to as "Sir Simon" for reasons that will become apparent) pronounced the whole cast "A-Grade." Having attended the Wellington opening on Saturday, I can say without hesitation: they are! Every aspect of the production, in fact, is first-rate. It is unfailingly professional, frequently electrifying and every bit as theatrical as such a delectably preposterous melodrama ought to be!

I had been looking forward to hearing Sir Simon sing real music, as opposed to the Wagner that is his staple, and was delighted to find he and real music are an excellent pairing. I do hope they continue going out together. Any lingering doubts I might have had about the new knight's ability to sustain the long, loving legato lines of Puccini, as opposed to Wagner's convulsive, discordant squawkings and screechings, were extinguished for ever. Why Simon doesn't just end it with Richard when he's got Giacomo I can't begin to imagine.

I was privileged to spend some quality time alone with the convivial tenor after his Monday classes at the university, and he made an impassioned but doomed effort to persuade me of Richard Wagner's many fine attributes. I remained obdurately unenlightened, albeit moved by the (slightly libation-enhanced) fervour with which Sir Simon championed the object of his devotion.

But I digress. O'Neill sings Cavaradossi with both polish and passion, neglecting not a note or phrase, enunciating the lyrics with exemplary conviction, and shaping Puccini's rapturous melodies with consummate musicianship, from the early Recondita Armonia through Qual Occhio al Mondo through E Lucevan le Stelle to O Dolci Mani. His A-Sharps on "Vittoria!" in the second act were jaw-droppingly, sensationally good.

I confess overall I was expecting more portamento, but O'Neill's Cavaradossi is more Bjoerling than Corelli or di Stefano; I thought there might be a diminuendo on the first High A in E Lucevan, but this is a Lanza "disciogliea"—none of that lingering and showing off nonsense! More to the point, the whole thing is O'Neill, legitimately and convincingly asserting ownership rights over the role.

And then there were the duets. Oh my! Forget Callas and di Stefano, Tebaldi and del Monaco, Carreras and Caballé or whoever. These two, O'Neill and Orla Boylan, were a shameless, orgasmic melée. I only hope they can make it to the end of the season without being arrested.

Boylan's Tosca was unforgettable. I've heard a few Vissi d'Artes in my time, including Caballé live, but never have I heard one that ended as exquisitely or achingly as this. I could trot out all the clichés about Boylan's voice—rich, powerful, beautiful, etc.—and they'd all be true but would not convey the excruciating pathos in her singing. Or the courage in her acting: Ms Boylan had to leap to her death from what appeared to be a very great height indeed, yet emerged intact to take her bows. Whatever the grade above A is, Orla Boylan's Tosca is it.

Phillip Rhodes's Scarpia ... well, this young man is far too young for the part, and so frighteningly handsome there should be a law against him. He does not at all resemble the vile, gouty, inflated, flatulent, flesh-crawlingly creepy Scarpias we know and love—but he gets away with it simply by being fabulous. His is an unorthodox Scarpia, a Dorian Gray type of evil, actual deeds and utterances belied by outrageous good looks. His Te Deum was spine-chilling.

I'd be remiss not to single out also the conducting of Tobias Ringborg, who lived and breathed every moment just as surely as if he were on stage himself. All without a score! Orchestra (the NZSO), chorus and soloists gave as good as he commanded.

Not just Sir Simon, but everyone involved in bringing this beyond-magnificent production to fruition ought to be knighted and damed. See it before any or all of the above-posited arrests occur or laws get passed!


Good music is hard to find...

mvardoulis's picture

Unless you live in New Zealand, it seems!

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