A Journey Through Madison's Classical Music Scene
Nov 2, 2013
12:18 PM
Classically Speaking

Madison Opera Demonstrates Exactly What Great Opera Is All About

Madison Opera Demonstrates Exactly What Great Opera Is All About

James Gill Photography

Scott Piper and Melody Moore

If you’ve never been sure that you really ever understood what opera is all about, all you need to do is get to the Overture Center Sunday afternoon and watch Madison Opera present Puccini’s Tosca, and at the final curtain you’ll know exactly what all the shouting is about. Chances are pretty good you’ll even let loose with a “bravo” or two, because nearly everyone involved in this riveting production deserves one. In fact, the only problem in writing this review is the risk of omitting a contribution worth singling out.

Let’s start with the easy stuff: the gorgeous sets and costumes come courtesy of Seattle Opera, which means that Madison has a company healthy enough to invest in that kind of rental, and enjoys a space like Overture Hall in which to employ them.

The heart of the matter though, is singing; if you don’t have persuasive voices, the prettiest stage and the greatest orchestra are crippled. No worries: Melody Moore in the title role delivers on all the hype that resulted when she stepped in as Tosca on opening night (beginning with Act 2 no less!) at the San Francisco Opera almost exactly one year ago. That central act contains the diva’s “big hit,” “Vissi d’arte,” and Moore reaped as prolonged an ovation Friday night as I’ve heard at Madison Opera. But better still was her ability to deliver two kinds of chemistry: the jealously unstable but passionate love for Cavaradossi, and the flip side, a skin-crawling revulsion for Scarpia, as dark a villain as inhabits the operatic hall of shame.

It was Nmon Ford as the latter, and he made good in full, and then some, for the down payment he had given last summer’s Opera in the Park audience. As physically imposing as vocally, in his mostly black costume, he can not only roar, but chillingly insinuate with a quieter turn of phrase. He’s been here before, and we can only hope that he’s back again sooner rather than later. His Act 2 manipulation of Tosca’s affections—as he is having Cavaradossi tortured in the next room—is truly hands on, and this is the place to give director A. Scott Parry his due.

What puts this Tosca in the category of truly memorable nights, is Parry’s direction of these fabulous singers, giving us fully believable portraits of passion, teasing, threats both terribly real and implied, in short, real life with singing added.

Lest we forget, Scott Piper was the aforementioned Cavaradossi, a painter who finds himself caught in the middle of political intrigue in Rome, 1800 as Napoleon closes in on the city and Scarpia does everything he can to hold onto his power as chief of the not-so-secret police, and win the girl by force. Piper may not possess the easy tenorial ring of Domingo, et al, but he brings a natural warmth to the role, and more than enough unforced power to move us in his big arias.

The last, and certainly not least, of the major participants consist in conductor John DeMain and the Madison Symphony. Anyone who has heard either MSO program this fall was already excited at the prospect of hearing DeMain and his crew tear into one of his favorite scores, and they did not disappoint. It was gratifying to see them receive an extra roar of approval during the final curtain calls, when DeMain took the stage and gestured to the players in the pit.

But there is a bottom line; in the world of opera production, the buck stops with the general director, and with this Tosca, Kathryn Smith notches another victory. I have no idea whether she’s a baseball fan, but with the World Series just concluded, the best metaphor is that Smith is the dugout manager of a team that just hit it out of the park. Her partnership with DeMain remains an operatic match made in heaven for local opera lovers, and at this rate it should spill over into making new fans of folks who just haven’t been bitten by the opera bug yet.

If you don’t make it tomorrow, you can still sample Melody Moore’s vocal gifts when she returns next month as soloist under DeMain for the MSO’s “Christmas Spectacular,” and there’s always the promise of Madison Opera’s next hit in the making, Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment on February 7 and 9.

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About This Blog

Years before I contributed my first classical review to the Los Angeles Times in 1988, I started a class in music appreciation for adults that had one aim: to put a few cracks in the “ivory tower elitism” I found pervasive in the classical music world since my boyhood days. Whether as a critic, program annotator or band director, that goal has never changed. After all, Mozart and Beethoven and the gang wrote their music for people like you—not critics or professors!

After growing up in the suburbs of New York City, and spending twenty years in and around Los Angeles, the last twelve years here leave me more amazed than ever at the musical riches of Madison. I’m a cheerleader at heart, because I always think more people would become classical fans if they’d give it a chance—but I’m also quick to tell you when you’re not getting your money’s worth. Classically Speaking brings you as much news and as many reviews as possible, and I hope you’ll join me for a fabulous musical journey.

–  Greg Hettmansberger
Follow Greg on Twitter @ghettmansberger

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