Pacific Opera Victoria

By Giacomo Puccini

Venue Royal Theatre, Victoria

Reviewer J H Stape


Angelotti Andrew Greenwood Tosca Christiane Riel Sacristan Bruce Kelly Cavaradossi Marc Hervieux Scarpia John Avey Spoletta Ken Lavigne Sciarrone Steven de Vries Jailer Mark Marquette Shepherd Andy Erasmus

Conductor Timothy Vernon Director François Racine
Sets & Costumes
Paul Dishaw Lighting Gerald King

The Victoria Symphony and The Pacific Opera Chorus Chorus Master Robert Holliston


Pacific Opera Victoria's production of Puccini's "shabby little shocker," as Bernard Shaw famously and unfairly dubbed this great theatrical experience, revealed this opera in no new light, the staging and direction being ultra-traditional.

The focus remained squarely on high drama and erotic tension and no stop was left unpulled. The utterly marvellous singing of tenor Marc Hervieux would alone have been worth making one's way to Victoria's bijoux Royal Theatre. (Toronto's Canadian Opera Company has yet one last season in the dismal Hummingbird Center and Vancouver Opera is likely doomed for eternity in the even more dreadful Queen Elizabeth Theatre.)

With only about twenty minutes of singing, the role of Cavaradossi is not, in a sense, a large one, but Hervieux brought a powerful voice to it, making his two arias the evening's show-stopping high points. His "Recondita armonia" showed off his lyrical side, but it was in the thrilling "Vittoria" in the second act that his brilliant top voice shook the rafters. His final act "E lucevan le stelle" had members of the audience literally in tears. His acting skills are as yet mainly serviceable, but this is a tenor to watch out for. Having seen both Domingo and Carreras in this role early in their careers, I have my memories, to which Hervieux's creation will now be added.

Madame Christiane Riel came increasingly into her own as the evening progressed, with an especially well-focussed second act. Her Tosca was a study in vulnerability, having virtually nothing of the grande dame in it. Her fit of hysterics after murdering Scarpia was about as convincing as operatic acting ever can be, and her attention to theatrical detail throughout was nothing short of top flight. Her vocal command of the role was, however, somewhat less assured. There was compelling and beautiful singing, especially in the top register and in mezzo forte and forte passages, but there was (at least to my taste) a touch too much vibrato generally.
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The opera's melodramatic core came out in John Avey's ably sung and solidly acted Scarpia, playing the truly decadent aristocrat with refinement and craft. The setting of Act II with its throne and classical busts was, as it were, a stage for acting out a tyrant's venal desires.

The minor roles were in the main nicely cast. Bruce Kelly in the sole comic moments gave a committed performance as did the tall, dark, and handsome Ken Lavigne, who made an impact in the small but vital part of Spoletta. Indeed, costuming and direction here were particularly vivid, with Scarpia's police force (dressed in villainous black) spreading out in the first and second acts like so many poison spiders. (A truly sour note: Mark Marquette's Jailer was unforgivably terrible, with the worst singing and acting I have ever seen on any stage.)

Maestro Timothy Vernon gave the score a crisp and stylish reading, with the Victoria Symphony playing its heart out under his baton, with the well-rehearsed chorus also giving full value.

Pacific Opera Victoria's 2005-06 season, its twenty-eighth, features Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, Britten's Rape of Lucretia, and Rigoletto. Treats are in store as opera on the West Coast goes from strength to strength. And Pacific Opera Victoria is simply one of Vancouver Island's treasures.

2005 J. H. Stape


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