Sunday, May 22, 2005

Salvatore Licitra

My stars must have been arranged perfectly today. I decided that today was the day I would finally go to the Washington National Opera. I knew they were doing Tosca, but I didn't know who would be singing. "Tosca is hard to completely mess up," I thought. "I should like it."

Quite by accident I was treated to Salvatore Licitra singing Cavaradossi. All I can say is this is what opera is supposed to be. It's a mature voice (he's about 37), a big voice, a voice that never needs to be pushed to make its full effect. The Sony standard biography points out that he has been working with Carlo Bergonzi. This is completely believable because he has the authentic Italian style, and where is there a better master of this style than Bergonzi? Opera is for giving you goose bumps, for making the hair stand up on the back of your neck, for making you cry. Today I had the true opera experience. He's a bit rough around the edges, but I'm not at all sure this isn't part of his charm.

There is something to be said for the idea of a singer managing an opera company. The Washington National Opera might also be called the Placido Domingo personal opera. People who donate belong to the Domingo Circle, for instance. Who better than Domingo to find the best singers from around the world? I noticed the performance was sold out.

Licitra was not perfectly matched with his Tosca, Ines Salazar, who possesses a voice that can only show power above the staff. The middle of her voice is somewhat soft, and when she and Licitra were singing together he overpowered her. The conductor, Leonard Slatkin, accompanied her voice with masterful discretion, keeping the orchestra consistently under control.

It seemed to me that the performance was well in tune with Salazar's limitations, emphasizing Tosca's sweetness and religious devotion over her dramatic actress qualities. In the second act she stabs Scarpia four times, washes her hands, and spends the long instrumental interval in prayer instead of the traditional silliness with the candles.

Juan Pons as Scarpia was his usual excellent self. He died a hard, very athletic death. Licitra also managed an expert somersault in the second act. There seems to have been a lot of physical business in this opera.

By the end of the opera you should have shouted at least once, preferably several times. When toward the end they proclaim how their souls will soar in light, you should weep for the cruelty of their fate. Ultimately you should have forgotten every other Tosca you have ever seen.

[See Kinderkuchen History 1890-1910]

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