Skagit Opera sings again
by Christopher Key
Anyone familiar with opera expects high drama on the stage. Skagit Opera has starred in an offstage drama that had some people wondering if it was about to sing its death aria. Fortunately for everyone, Skagit Opera has Dr. Mitchell Kahn, whose persistence, tenacity and refusal to take no for an answer have resulted in a triumphant resurrection. In these desperate economic times, lots of smaller arts organizations are biting the dust. That makes Skagit Opera’s comeback even more impressive. The current production of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca bears eloquent witness to Kahn’s dogged determination.
If you’re going to see and hear an opera, it helps to have a venue that is acoustically attuned. Mt. Vernon’s wonderful McIntyre Hall is about as good as it gets. It’s also designed so that there isn’t a bad seat in the house. More of them need to be filled.
I will be the first to admit that I am not as knowledgeable about opera as I should be and there are probably many others better qualified than I am to write a review. However, I seem to be the only game in town, so I frequently rush in where angels fear to tread.
Regular readers of this blog will undoubtedly know how many times I have mentioned that this rather obscure upper left hand corner of the nation has far more than its share of extraordinary artistic talent. Skagit Opera would be impressive in a community many times this size.
The legendary Maria Callas owned the role of Tosca for many years. It’s unfortunate for subsequent performers that they may be expected to measure up to those standards. I’m not laboring under that handicap since I’m far too young to have seen Callas. If Callas was anything like as spectacular as Skagit Opera’s Christina Kowalski, she deserved her rep. Floria Tosca demands a fiery interpretation and Kowalski simply burned the place down. Her spectacular soprano voice carries a rare richness even into the highest registers. What makes it even more astounding is that this huge voice emanates from a very petite singer. Her chops are such that even when she in engaged in some very realistic struggles with the villain Scarpia, she never misses a note.
Baron Scarpia is one of the iconic villains in opera, having not a single redeeming quality. Korean-born baritone Yu Seok Oh could have taken the easy way out and blustered his way through the role. Instead, Oh gives a much more subtle interpretation that makes Scarpia akin to certain contemporary political figures who justify police state tactics and torture with a matter-of-fact manner. His well-chosen approach helps make the opera a very cogent comment on the kind of evils that the human race never seems to outgrow, in Puccini’s time or ours.
Tosca’s paramour is both an artist and a reluctant revolutionary. The two often seem to go hand-in-hand. Tenor Anthony Kalil not only possesses a thrilling voice, but is thoroughly convincing as the painter who simply wants to complete his portrait of the Magdalena and fool around with Tosca. For me, the most hair-raising moments in the show come when he and she raise their voices together in the third act. There is really nothing quite like a superb tenor, which is why you see so many recordings from Caruso, Pavarotti, Domingo, Carreras, et al, and the baritones and basses languish in the remainder bins. Kalil deserves to be in that elite company.
The supporting roles are as solid as the leads, but Steve Tachell, as The Sacristan, stands out by delivering a cagey performance suggesting that the Sacristan may be hitting the communion wine on the sly.
This Tosca deserves to fill the house at McIntyre and you only have three chances to accomplish that: October 9 at 2:00 p.m., October 21 at 7:30 p.m. and October 23 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets can be reserved by calling toll-free 866.624.6897 Ex. 2 or online at https://ticketing.mcintyrehall.org/TheatreManager/1/login&event=0.
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