The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Madison Opera’s “Tosca” is a MUST-SEE and MUST-HEAR production that ends this afternoon.

November 3, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Loyal readers of this blog know very well the name of Mikko Utevsky. The young violist and conductor is a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where he studies with Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm and plays in the UW Symphony Orchestra.

Utevsky, who has won awards and impressive reviews for his work in music education since his days at Madison’s East High School, is the founder and conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra, which will perform its fourth season next summer. He  was recently named the new Music Director of a local community orchestra, The Studio Orchestra. The ensemble has an out-of-date website here (www.disso.org).

You can check out his many honors and projects by typing his name into the search engine on this blog site.

When Utevsky offered The Ear to be a guest reviewer of the opening performance Friday night of the Madison Opera’s production of “Tosca,” I immediately took him up on the offer. After all, he is a fine and perceptive writer who, you may recall, blogged for this post when he was on tour two summers ago with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) tour to Vienna, Prague and Budapest.

Here is the review by Mikko Utevsky (below):

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

By Mikko Utevsky

The Madison Opera opened its season Friday night with a performance of Giacomo Puccini‘s ever-popular “Tosca” that can only be described as seriously good. (Below is the final scene in a photo by James Gill for the Madison Opera.) This tale of politics, love and revenge requires a solid cast, intelligent direction and a powerful orchestra. The Madison Opera proved that it has all three.

tosca on ramparts mad op

The Madison Symphony Orchestra‘s first two concerts of the new season have effectively demonstrated the power of that ensemble, and the ability of maestro John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) to draw out first-rate playing from an orchestra still on the rise 20 years into his tenure. In the pit (trimmed down slightly) they were no less impressive, with subtle colors and a lush, full-bodied sound. While the orchestra in Puccini is seldom in the spotlight, they certainly deserve to be.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

The focus in this opera is naturally all on the singers, and the cast did not disappoint.

Baritone Nmon Ford (below in the back, in a photo by James Gill) gave a menacing and sharp-edged performance as the police chief, Baron Scarpia.

His malevolent presence in the overpowering Te Deum (at bottom from “Opera in the Park” in a YouTube video) of Act I lent power to one of the strongest scenes the Overture Hall stage has seen in years, and his rapacious desire in Act II was compelling both in the singing and raw physicality, revealing the true fire behind the imposing facade he displays in the first act. Vocally, he brought a little more edge and a little less bottom to the role than ordinarily heard, but it was compelling all the same.

scarpia and tosca mad opera

Tenor Scott Piper was slow to warm to his role as the painter Cavaradossi (below, with Tosca, in a photo by James Gill), though warm he did. Particularly in the first act his upper register felt forced, with tension and volume substituting for a clear and refined tone, and his acting was somewhat wooden (though the third act was a marked improvement).

However, Piper brought considerable power to the role, and earned the applause he got for “E lucevan le stelle” as he awaits his execution.

tosca and cavaradossi mad op james gill

The true star of the evening, in the title role, was soprano Melody Moore as Tosca (below right in a photo by James Gill). Madison audiences may remember her as the excellent Countess from 2010’s “Le Nozze di Figaro,” but her performance here is on a completely different level.

From her stunning high notes to her impressive acting to her show-stopping rendition of Act II’s “Vissi d’arte” — rewarded with a thunderous ovation Friday night, which only stopped when maestro DeMain brought the orchestra back in —  Moore is the real deal.

Her characterization of Tosca as youthfully, playfully capricious (rather than as the self-absorbed diva she so often becomes) goes a long way toward explaining her behavior in the opera, and allowed her a great deal of freedom onstage.

tosca and cavaradossi

Director A. Scott Parry shaped the stage business of “Tosca” with intelligence and the attention to detail we have come to expect from him. The second act was particularly powerful (though the massive “Te Deum” from Act I cannot be forgotten), brought off with aplomb by Ford and Moore.

Completing the picture, magnificent sets (below) from the Seattle Opera laid out a majestic cathedral from inside and out in the first and third acts, the latter with a delightfully sensitive sunrise from lighting designer John Frautschy, and the singers were costumed in similarly appealing ensembles, also from Seattle (Scarpia’s stark black-and-white apparel was particularly effective).

tosca set 1 mad op

All in all, this is a “Tosca” not to be forgotten — or missed in its second and final performance on today, Sunday afternoon, Nov. 3, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center.  (It runs 2 hours 45 minutes, with two intermissions, and it is sung in Italian with projected English supertitles.)

For information about tickets plus a plot synopsis and a complete cast list, visit:

http://madisonopera.org/performances-2013-2014/tosca/index.aspx


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