Reprinted from yesterday's late edition.
Three American opera stars made a resounding showing in the Washington Opera's production of "Tosca" at the Kennedy Center Wednesday night.
Carol Neblett, James King and Cornell MacNeil working in the tight sympathy with the specialized stage direction of Tito Gobbi, turned in highly satisfying performances. They played with strength in a cast filled with fine work among the minor charaters.
Gobbi, with what approaches a unique wealth of experience in "Tosca" today, has introduced some arresting new touches into the familiar action. The escaped prisoner, Angelotti, in the first scene spends much of this time hiding in one of the confessionals rather than heading immediately for the Attavanti chapel. It makes sense and adds a special flavor to his dialogue with Cavaradossi.
The most striking departure from traditional routine occurs while Tosca is singing her big aria, "Vissi d'arte," Never before have I seen the barritone simply walk off the stage and leave the star all to herself through most of the aria. In words of one syllable, it is as Gobbi were saying, for all baritones and many others, Puccini really should not have interrupted the action here with this aria - so scarpia will be back when it is about over. For a moment the opera becomes a concert hall, which is Puccini's basic fault.
Several stage details are troublesome: the sets lent by Chicago's Lyric Opera, are fine in the first and lasts acts. But in the second act, Nedlett, after fine handling of the murder of Scarpia , cannot be seen, thus depriving the audience of one of opera's most dramatic exits.
In the last scene, just at the crucial moment of Cavaradossi's execution, Tosca is hidden from most of the audience when her presence is essential. This is a detail that could be easily adjusted.
But the major thrust of the play is clear and forceful. MacNeil's Scarpia is meanacing, sinister, lustful, and, in sum, genuinely vicious. And the veteran singer full of the treats in watching so seasoned an artist is the wealth of detail that enriches his portrait.
James King's presence in the leading tenor role is a source of power and beauty. His voice is a thrilling one and his use of it an example of total mastery. WIth some subtle coloring, he created a particular sympathy in his closing scene in which his acting was more than ordinarily convincing.
If the King could be available, the Washington Opera should turn its attention to Wagnes or Strauss.
Neblett knows her way round Tosca enough that she doesn't the role what she wants to. She is always convincing, though there is far more gold in the first scene than she found Wednesday. Her voice is at its best on top, where she put brilliance into nearly all she did. Her singing is easy in the part, without touching the heavens.
Nicola Rescigno conducted a reading that took on more tension as it proceeded, after a rather slow and unprecise beginning. Distinguished in the smaller roles were Gimi Beni's Sacristan, and Andre Lortie's hatchetman, Spoletta, with fine singing and Allan Glassman's Jailer.
Somehow the one big crowd scene, that of the first act finale with its "Te Deum" did not add up. It was flabby in the movement of the people, feeble in the end, not the overwhelming curtain Puccini wrote.
Lighting by Particia Collins was always pointed, and the costumes of Pier Luigi a pt. The reptitions on tonight and Sunday afternoon are sold out, but standing rooms goes on sale each of those days.
Questions: Why was King's Cavaradossi saddled 'with such a wretched painting as sample of his work? He should have gone on strike.