Reading this summary is going to raise alarm bells for some, but as dubious as it sounds the concept and setting personally worked surprisingly well. There have been better productions of Tosca(the films with Kabaivanka/Domingo/Milnes and with Malfitano/Domingo/Raimondi) but also worse(Patane/Cura/Bruson, the 2000 production with Nucci as Scarpia and the 2009 Met production), ranking it this New York City Opera production would rank around high middle.
The Act 1 church setting while working somewhat within the concept wasn't the most striking visually, that props were kept simple wasn't a problem that was effective and so was the cross but the set itself was rather dark and bare in a way that it was more reminiscent of the inside of a prison rather than a church. Alfredo Portilla from personal opinion was an uneven Cavaradossi, he is youthful and energetic and brings out the poignancy of the two big arias beautifully, his ardent-sounding voice copes very well with the lyrical passages of the role. While the chemistry between the singers is always convincing Portilla can be rather stolid as an actor, his acting in Act 2 could have had more fire and defiance, and his voice copes better in Acts 1 and to a lesser extent 3 than Act 2, where his voice did lack heft and power.
However, the production is well lit throughout, the use of props is effective and the sets work well within the setting and the drama. The costumes are very true to the 1930s setting and look good, Tosca dressed in light violet satin in Act 2 was different but looked positively luminous. If you were wondering whether the updating works, to me yes it did, it has a fresh feel to it while staying very loyal to the spirit and themes of the story. Dramatically, while with some stereotypical touches(i.e. Tosca singing Vissi D'Arte sitting on the floor), the production is very arresting with the genuinely tense Act 2 faring the best of the three acts(as it should, it's also been my personal favourite of the three). Tosca and Cavaradossi's love for another comes across poignantly and that between Tosca and Scarpia is like dynamite, even the minor roles are interesting.
Musically, the production is great. The orchestral playing is dynamic, deft in pace and tight in ensemble, with all the dramatic power and nuances of Puccini's magnificent score coming through. Balance is an issue at times but most of the time it's fine. The conducting is controlled and precise and the chorus singing and stage presence are involved. All the minor roles are performed very well, Spoletta is appropriately slimy and the Sacristan is appealingly robust. Amy Johnson is very good as Tosca, the voice has a tremulous quality at times that mayn't be for everybody but it was never a problem for me, it carries well, has a nice brightness and ping and there is some really intelligent, musical singing going on. Her acting is very passionate, moving and confident from her very first appearance all the way through to the end, Tosca is a complex character and Johnson brings that. Even better is Mark Delavan who's an outstanding Scarpia, he is commanding and menacing- his entrance is quite scary in fact- but there are signs of elegance and subtlety despite his imposing appearance. His voice is just wonderful with a big dark, booming quality and expressed in a way that is really thrilling to listen to.
In conclusion, a surprisingly very good production of a huge personal favourite. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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