San Diego Opera Opens a Resplendent ‘Tosca’

When Giacomo Puccini first saw Victorien Sardou’s play La Tosca produced, he instructed his publisher Giulio Ricordi to get permission from Sardou to turn his play into an opera. Negotiations dithered while Puccini was writing other operas, but when he chanced to see a production with the great Sarah Bernhardt in the title role, he was convinced he had to turn Sardou’s play into an opera, and everything quickly fell into place.

‘Tosca’ Act 1 finale [photo (c.) Karli Cadel]

If the initial critical reaction to Tosca’s premiere in Rome in January of 1900 was mixed, rousing audience approval has been unequivocal since the work’s opening night. Saturday’s wildly enthusiastic reception of San Diego Opera’s resplendent production of this season’s Tosca at San Diego Civic Theatre continued that unflinching affirmative verdict.

San Diego Opera’s Tosca has it all: a formidable cast; brisk, spirited stage direction; discerning music direction, and opulent but bracing orchestral support from the pit. The set and costumes have been seen here before, but as a snide critic once observed—nobody leaves an opera production humming the scenery.

Marcelo Puente & Michelle Bradley [photo (c.) Karli Cadell]

While Michelle Bradley’s title role incarnation of the company’s 2019 Aïda was impressive, her Tosca is dazzling. Her powerful, creamy spinto soprano was made for this role as a celebrated operatic diva, and she conveyed the gamut of the singer’s emotional excesses with welcome finesse. In her show-stopping aria “Vissi d’arte” she aptly caressed its opening phrases as she gradually floated up to its confident conclusion in her gleaming upper register. And her ingratiating duets with the young Argentine tenor Marcelo Puente’s Cavaradossi were paradigms of ardent allure. In his San Diego Opera debut, Puente revealed a winning lyrical tenor, clearly enjoying his sumptuous phrasing—not merely showing off the ease of his splendid high notes. I cannot recall a more compelling and poignant interpretation of his third-act aria, “E lucevan le stelle.” Above all, his assertive, confident characterization of Cavaradossi gave unusual depth to the role, which too frequently appears to be a naive painter who foolishly misjudges the consequences of his political allegiances.

Greer Grimsley clearly owns his Baron Scarpia role; this is the third time San Diego audiences have seen him as Rome’s cunning Chief of Police. The dark hues of his bass-baritone are perfect for barking orders to his obsequious subordinates or purring conspiratorial innuendos, and his slightly arch politesse in the second-act seduction scene proved diverting, especially since the audience knows his plans will not come to fruition.

Andrew Craig-Brown’s Angelotti, the political prisoner Cavaradossi befriends, revealed a pleasant bass-baritone beneath the urgent anguish of his character, and baritone Michael Sokol adeptly handled the buffo role of the church Sacristan with ample good humor. Tenor Joel Sorensen’s Spoletta, one of Scarpia’s agents, ambled about the stage with servile grace, and Scarpia’s right-hand man Sciarrone was given courtly flourishes by bass-baritone DeAndre Simmons.

Alan E. Hicks’ lucid stage direction emphasized order and dramatic clarity, notably in the first act’s crowd scenes, especially the liturgical procession that has the Opera Chorus intoning the stirring Gregorian chant Te Deum, which sounded both magnificent and profound. Hicks brought equal clarity to the charged life and death transactions of the second act.

Under the baton of Italian guest conductor Valerio Galli, the orchestra—members of the San Diego Symphony—faithfully delivered the brilliance and edge of Puccini’s opulently detailed score.

San Diego Opera’s familiar Tosca set and costumes served the drama well, especially the spacious interior of the first act’s Church of Saint Andrea della Valle. But I particularly enjoyed the stark neoclassicism of Scarpia’s apartment in the Palazzo Farnese; Chris Rynne’s shadowy lighting made it decadently ominous.

This production of Giacamo Puccini’s ‘Tosca’ was presented by San Diego Opera in San Diego Civic Theatre on Saturday, March 25, 2023. Performances are also scheduled for March 28 & 31, as well as April 2.


  1. Steven McDonald on March 27, 2023 at 6:08 am

    Thank you for the wonderful review: We are looking forward to seeing a “resplendent” Tosca this Friday. I hope your review inspires others to enjoy this wonderfully accessible piece.

    And thank you to the Opera Board, donors and opera lovers for maintaining this San Diego cultural institution.

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