Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Tosca Comes to Town . . . 'E Lucevan le Stelle'

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Tosca Comes to Town . . . 'E Lucevan le Stelle'

Article excerpt

The title part in Puccini's "Tosca" is one of the ultimate challenges for an operatic soprano. It requires a big voice, enormous stamina, temperament, personal magnetism, plus the ability to momentarily shed the wild histrionics at the opera's midpoint and tug at the audience's heartstrings in the great lyrical aria, "Vissi d'arte." After all, the character herself is the greatest diva of her time.

Saturday at the Benedum Center, Angela Brown fit all the requirements. Her portrayal may not have the maturity and subtlety of the greatest Toscas in living memory -- Maria Callas, Magda Olivero and Leontyne Price come to mind -- but Ms. Brown has a luscious, full-bodied sound that rides the orchestra and sustains all the technical vocal challenges; she has the fire and ice of a genuine diva, plus the passion and breadth of line to make her familiar solo both a prayer to the god who has deserted her and a personal indictment for offenses she may not have known she committed.

In addition she has a quality I've never seen in any other Tosca: humor. "Tosca's" plot hinges on torture, rape, murder, execution, police and church corruption, and suicide. Yet Ms. Brown invests a playfulness into the first act love duet, and a lightness of spirit in the final scenes when she thinks (wrongly) that her lover's execution is to be simulated, that gives the character a new and welcome facet. She also makes Tosca's jump off the ramparts at the end -- which can be ludicrous if not done just right -- convincing.

Matching the soprano in vocal force if not psychological dimension is the booming baritone of Mark Delavan as the evil police chief Scarpia. Mr. Delavan is suave and menacing, and he manages some steamy wrestling on the floor with Ms. Brown in the crucial scene. He's not a refined singer, but he scales the gamut and makes the right dramatic points. …

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