Daniel Oren conducts general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: MuperphotoDaniel Oren conducts general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: Muperphoto

Political upheaval, police corruption, lies, treason, and murder and suicide (two of each!) – this is the plot of Giacomo Puccini’s opera Tosca, the main event at the Israeli Opera’s summer festival at Masada. With a small but impressive cast of singers, it seems that the Israeli Opera has risen to the challenge of performing the work in the desert setting, and as usual, Daniel Oren’s enthusiastic conducting is a pleasure to the ears.

Setting the scene for Tosca at Masada/Photo: MuperphotoSetting the scene for Tosca at Masada/Photo: Muperphoto

Gustavo Porta - general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: MuperphotoGustavo Porta – general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: Muperphoto

Tosca is possibly the most famous of Puccini’s heroines: a brave, independent and strong-willed woman. She goes out with a bang, uttering a final threat to her nemesis and leaping off the parapets of the Castel Sant’Angelo.

Gustavo Porta and Ira Berman - general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: MuperphotoGustavo Porta and Ira Berman – general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: Muperphoto

Like many operas, Tosca is based on a play – Victorien Sardou’s La Tosca. The first Tosca was Sarah Bernhardt, who performed the role all over Europe and the Americas. New York audiences were horrified by the play, and the operatic version went on to stir emotions just as strong: the late musicologist Joseph Kerman famously described Tosca as a “shabby little shocker”.

However, Tosca remains a favorite (perhaps a guilty pleasure?) of many opera lovers, including this one. The announcement that Tosca will be performed at Masada led to some speculation as to the way the director will use the massive rock as a prop, especially given the title character’s dramatic exit.

Cast member waiting to go onstage - general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: MuperphotoCast member waiting to go onstage – general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: Muperphoto

Of course, what really makes the performance shine is the singing (which is amplified due to the vast open space). Singing the title role is Svetla Vassileva, who has already performed at Masada, in Verdi’s Requiem. Born in Bulgaria, she performs Puccini roles all over Europe. Tenor Gustavo Porta is an Israel Opera regular and has performed the role of Cavaradossi many times. His rendition of the Act I aria “Recondita armonia” was especially pleasant.

Gustavo Porta - general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: MuperphotoGustavo Porta – general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: Muperphoto

Scott Hendricks, an American baritone in his Israeli Opera debut, is a truly evil Scarpia, combining vocal and dramatic expressions to convey lust one moment, rage the next, and in between a casual, nonchalant evil. He creeps up at Tosca’s shoulder menacingly, and leans back nonchalantly on a table or a chaise longue, watching and plotting.

Scott Hendricks as Scarpia - general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: MuperphotoScott Hendricks as Scarpia – general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: Muperphoto

Scott Hendricks as Scarpia - general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: MuperphotoScott Hendricks as Scarpia – general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: Muperphoto

Scott Hendricks as Scarpia - general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: MuperphotoScott Hendricks as Scarpia – general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: Muperphoto

In the sadly small role of Angelotti, Mario’s resistance buddy, we have Carlo Striuli, another familiar voice in Israel who works with Maestro Oren regularly.

Gustavo Porta and Carlo Striuli - general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: MuperphotoGustavo Porta and Carlo Striuli – general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: Muperphoto

The story of Tosca is very clear on locations: we move from the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle to a dining room in the Palazzo Farnese and finally to the prison of the Castel Sant’Angelo. Here at Masada, instead of the elaborate Roman rooms, a large arc spans the stage, with an imposing, sword-wielding angel statue set at one end. The title “Roma, 1800″ is written in huge letters on the arc. Throughout the performance, images are projected onto the arc, providing more detail about the setting of each act: paintings in Act I that add to Cavaradossi’s portrait of Mary Magdalene, marble in Act II which serves as a kind of wallpaper for the scene in the Palazzo Farnese.

Scarpia (Scott Hendricks) and Tosca (Ira Berman) against a marble background/Photo: MuperphotoScarpia (Scott Hendricks) and Tosca (Ira Berman) against a marble background/Photo: Muperphoto

Alongside Tosca, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana will also be performed at the Masada Opera Festival, with James Judd conducting and Michal Znaniecki directing (Znaniecki also directed last year’s Traviata at Masada).

For details about both events and tickets, visit www.tosca-at-masada.com or www.israel-opera.co.il.

All images by Muperphoto.

The pleasures of watching Daniel Oren conduct!

Daniel Oren - general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: MuperphotoDaniel Oren – general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: Muperphoto

Daniel Oren - general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: MuperphotoDaniel Oren – general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: Muperphoto

Daniel Oren - general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: MuperphotoDaniel Oren – general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: Muperphoto

Daniel Oren - general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: MuperphotoDaniel Oren – general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: Muperphoto

Daniel Oren - general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: MuperphotoDaniel Oren – general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: Muperphoto

Daniel Oren - general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: MuperphotoDaniel Oren – general rehearsal for Tosca at Masada/Photo: Muperphoto