ORLANDO — Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca,” an opera in three acts, lives up to the very operatic notion of source material that highlights tragedy with a capital T — in this production, there are depictions of torture, murder and suicide, blended into a highly melodramatic piece set in Rome in June 1800.
It may be an equally great tragedy that the superb production by the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra has been scheduled for only two performances. The Orlando Phil musicians, combined with a magnificently talented cast — including stunning and passionate performances by Keri Alkema as Tosca, Adam Diegel as Cavaradossi and Todd Thomas as Scarpia — create a production that’s as least as elaborate and entertaining as any of the Broadway shows that have been staged at the Bob Carr Theater in the past. This is a large-scale, visually stunning production that deserves to be seen far more than simply two times over one weekend.
The audience that showed up at the Bob Carr Theater on Friday night demonstrated a similarly high level of enthusiasm — and not just at the end when the cast and the musicians received a standing ovation.
The production had been set to begin at 8 p.m., but the Orlando Philly’s artistic director, David Schillhammer, opted to delay the start by more than 20 minutes because a huge line had formed outside the theater, waiting to get tickets at the box office.
That turnout appeared to have stunned Schillhammer, who acknowledged as much when he came on stage to greet the audience for the start of the performance.
“I’m just overwhelmed because we had a huge turnout at the box office,” he told the audience, and added that he could not have delayed the start of the production to accommodate those patrons without the patience of those already seated inside the theater.
He also thanked the production’s conductor, Joel Revzen, for “assembling this all-star cast you’re about to see tonight.”
Before Schillhammer could get off the stage for the show to begin, however, two members of the Orlando Philly’s board of directors — R.K. Kelley, its vice president and president-elect, and Candice Crawford — came on stage to thank someone else — Schillhammer himself, for his years of dedication to the Orchestra, and in recognition of a special anniversary date.
“We just want to congratulate you on 15 years tonight — this very night — with the Orlando Philharmonic,” Kelley told Schillhammer.
Crawford added, “David has been an extraordinary leader for us. He is truly our star, so we give him a star tonight.”
As they exited the stage, Revzen came on to begin the production, set in a church.
The libretto was performed in Italian, with English subtitles broadcast above the stage, telling the story of Cesare Angelotti, an escaped political prisoner who enters the church of Sant Andrea della Valle to hide inside a chapel. As he does, Mario Cavaradossi, an artist and revolutionary, comes in to work on his portrait of Madonna.
Cavaradossi compares the blonde Madonna he is painting to his lover, singer Floria Tosca, a devout Catholic. But alas, Cavaradossi is not the only one who loves Tosca — and she has unfortunately attracted the unwelcome lust of Scarpia, the local chief of police. On his hunt for Angelotti in the church, Scarpia becomes insanely jealous of Tosca’s love for Cavaradossi, and decides to have the painter arrested — and tortured.
Can he break Tosca’s will and convince her to let Scarpia have his way with her if he becomes more lenient on the painter?
There are few more emotionally charged and riveting moments in this production than when Scarpia tries to bargain with Tosca, ruthlessly, and in the backdrop is a scene of the torture chamber — with bright red blood smeared across its walls. This is tough stuff, indeed, performed brilliantly by the cast.
But if Scarpia has a lusting in his loins, Tosca proves she has a fire in her belly as well — and is no wilting wallflower, waiting helplessly to be victimized.
And are there any more tragic moments in the world of opera than Tosca’s final scene atop the roof of the Castel Sant Angelo?
It will be performed again on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the theater at 401 W. Livingston St. in downtown Orlando. With a chorus of 28 adult men and women and 15 members of the children’s chorus, the finely designed set of the church and some eye-poppingly sumptuous costumes, “Tosca” is reminder of why the Orlando Philharmonic remains one of the great jewels of Orlando.
For tickets, call 407-770-0071.
Contact Freeline Media at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..