TOSCA (Philadelphia Orchestra): Music as a cultural mission

Sketch by Chuck Schultz.
Sketch by Chuck Schultz.

Yannick Nevet-Seguin conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra in a semi-staged performance of Puccini’s TOSCA, following previous showings of Solomon, St. Mathew’s Passion, and West Side Story.  As one guest remarked, “it brought opera to a new height.”

Act I-Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle ended with a grim spot light on Baritone Ambrogio Maestri. He towered above the Orchestra. Extending out in the center of the conductor’s circle was a dark stature with a feeling of empowerment. Maestri as Baron Scarpia represented unconstrained legalism in the hands of a daring patriarchal character.

Act II -Palazzo Farnese began with a beautiful aria by Jennifer Rowley. Tosca is a celebrated singer in the story and fights to keep Cesare Angelotti, played by Richard Bernstein, free from the gallows. This sounds strikingly familiar to the real protest that is happening outside the Kimmel Center, by people angry that the Orchestra is visiting Israel this summer (protestors interrupted Saturday night’s performance). But it is the painter, played by Yusif Eyvazov, who was tortured by the greater powers. A parody at a minimal expense accompanied the music of Puccini with opening and closing of windows to a cultural reality.

The director’s notes in the program mentions windows to the soul in the west, and Shakespeare’s language used what he knew; universally the eye of heaven was out like a candle light at night. Rowley touches the soul. Singers above the stage, condensed the set to adapt to the sheet music and enhance the soulful sound of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

From the poem, “The Rape of Lucrece” by William Shakespeare, to Puccini’s TOSCA, classic art constantly asking audiences to address egocentric politics. At a time when everybody has an opinion, music as a cultural mission makes a difference in a way that critically reshapes peace in our minds.

[Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts] May 12-19,

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