San Francisco Opera Review: Soprano’s Magnificent ‘Tosca’ Debut
By Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle
The title character in Puccini’s “Tosca” is as thoroughly theatrical a figure as the world of opera has to offer. She’s a singer and actress led into the world of political intrigue by the power of love, and she never stops seeing her predicament through the lens of art.
One of the great aspects of soprano Lianna Haroutounian’s phenomenal San Francisco Opera debut on Thursday night was the way she turned her musical gifts to the service of that conception. You could listen to her singing Puccini’s music all night long, and marvel at the beauty, precision and power that she packed into every measure of the performance.
But Haroutounian’s Tosca, unveiled at the War Memorial Opera House in the course of a traditional but largely effective revival, was more than just a virtuoso display of vocal prowess. It was a dramatic depiction of a woman for whom that artistry was essential to her very character.
In Act 1, when Tosca throws a little jealous tantrum at her lover, the painter Cavaradossi, the effect is always a simultaneous combination of staginess and genuine emotion. But the fearless energy of Haroutounian’s delivery — the way she tossed off peals of impeccably shaped notes without seeming to worry about where they would land — fused those two qualities seamlessly.
And in Act 3, when Tosca recounts the climactic conclusion of Act 2 — in which she plunged a dagger into the heart of the evil police chief Baron Scarpia — Haroutounian’s narrative was at once gripping and artistic, vaulting to a perfectly placed and sustained high C at the mention of the blade. You just knew that Tosca would never tell a story like this without one eye on her audience.
Haroutounian was able to pull off this integration of performer and character largely because her vocal endowments are so prodigious. The voice rings out powerfully, and yet there’s a sheathed quality to it that encompasses even the most piercing high notes in a wealth of color.
Her rhythmic control is fluent, her low notes robust and full of life, and her stage presence at once charismatic and vulnerable. And yes, the big Act 2 aria, “Vissi d’arte,” was delivered with sympathetic ardor — but Haroutounian’s entire performance surrounding it was so gripping, from moment to moment and scene to scene, that that number was merely one splendor among many.
Nor, appearances to the contrary, was Thursday’s opening simply The Lianna Haroutounian Show. She had capable collaborators in tenor Brian Jagde as Cavaradossi and baritone Mark Delavan as Scarpia, even if neither of them could completely wrest the spotlight away.
In the pit, conductor Riccardo Frizza led an oddly mannered performance that tended to speed up and slow down at unpredictable intervals, yet much of the playing by the Opera Orchestra sounded clear and forceful. Director Jose Maria Condemi, working on the familiar Thierry Bosquet production that mimics the one seen at the 1931 opening of the Opera House, fitted the action with a wealth of telling theatrical detail.
But in the end, this was Haroutounian’s night and no one else’s; Tosca would have been delighted. If the operatic gods are just, she’ll return to San Francisco soon.
CALIFORNIA COURIER EDITOR’S NOTE: Haroutounian debuts at the Metropolitan Opera, N. Y. this year in “Don Carlos.” She returns to San Francisco Opera in 2016 to perform in “Madame Butterfly.”