Opera: Tosca / Prague State Opera

Republishing one final opera review from my archives – this one from 2007 during my first visit to Prague. After becoming bored with the tourist crush in the center of town I had the good sense to veer off for an evening and take in yet another world-class opera house. RIP Frantisek Drs.

Last minute tickets for Tosca at the Prague State Opera. I’m so there. 

I loved my experience seeing Madama Butterfly in Budapest, so I couldn’t resist going to the box office when I heard there were a few good seats left. Didn’t get the catbird seat this time but got one on the main floor with good sight lines.  

The Prague State Opera House is more elaborate than Budapest’s Hungarian State Opera House but I think I still like the Budapest joint better. It’s a little older and lacks the ceiling frescos, but the overall effect is classier in my opinion. The Prague joint is immaculately restored, and has few peers as far as classic theater design goes, but the gilt-on-gloss-white paint treatment on every surface makes the place look more than a little like Louis XIV‘s own personal whorehouse. 

The sets are strange optical illusion building-scapes. These sets were originally created in 1947 by Josef Svoboda, but they were such classic creations that they have been brought back for appreciation by a modern audience. They looked goony to me at first, but they grew on me and by the second act I found I liked them a lot.  

The cast is of a higher caliber than the Budapest crew I saw in ’06, though Anda-Louise Bogz, the soprano who plays Tosca, does not sound like she’s in good voice tonight. Her highs could blow you down the street like a styrofoam cup in a gale, but her mids and lows came off weak and forced. However, as her star seems to be on the rise – she has played many prestige events and garnered good reviews over the last couple of years – I could just be seeing her on an off night. 

The tenor, who plays Cavaradossi, Igor Jan, was quite fine. I liked him and thought that he and Bogz worked well together. Richard Haan‘s Scarpia sounded good too and had great presence. 

Frantisek Drs‘s musical direction was not my thing. Much of the first act sounded dry and taut as if he were conducting Stravinsky instead of Puccini. Recondita Armonia sounded like a tug-of-war between tenor Jan and the conductor for the soul of the aria. A Puccini aria cries out for emotion, not form and discipline. Frantisek Drs should take his playbook of neoclassical stylings and stuff it – I like my Puccini with extra marinara. 

Strange curtain calls at the finish… Only the conductor and the two principal vocalists came out for the glory. Everyone else in the cast got the shaft. Someone in the production must be having a bitch fight with Richard Haan, his fine Scarpia notwithstanding. Despite her filthy low register, when our soprano took her bow she got a bravo from the balcony (her roommate, probably).