Performing Arts
© Mike Keenan


Puccini's Tosca in Toronto's Inviting Four Seasons Centre

Scarpia - Cast Scene
Scarpia - Cast Scene
Toronto's multi-cultural performing arts scene takes me to an Italian opera - Giacomo Puccini's Tosca at the Four Seasons Centre, a brief walk from The Sheraton Centre Hotel where I'm conveniently lodged. Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka, Uruguayan Carlo Ventre and American Mark Delavan are superb, winning a standing ovation at the end.

It's my first visit to the Four Seasons Centre, a 2,071-seat concert hall at the southeast corner of University Avenue and Queen Street West, across from Osgoode Hall. The grand opening was on June 14, 2006, and it replaced the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts (earlier the Hummingbird Centre and O'Keefe Centre) that had housed the COC for some 40 years.

In 2002, the COC under Richard Bradshaw launched a new set of plans that included a $20 million donation from the Four Seasons hotel chain in exchange for perpetual naming rights to the complex designed by Canadian firm Diamond and Schmitt Architects. The complex took three years to construct at an estimated cost of $181 million.

The attractive auditorium is modelled after European opera houses with a horseshoe shape with five-tiers. The hall's interior décor and hardwood floors absorb sounds, and textured walls made from plastered gypsum reflect sound. The exterior has a wonderful glass showcase on the west side allowing passers-by to look inside.

Based on Victorien Sardou's 1887 French-language dramatic play, Tosca is set in Rome in 1800 with the Kingdom of Naples threatened by Napoleon's invasion of Italy. Despite the themes of torture, murder and suicide, it includes some of Puccini's best-known lyrical arias, and has inspired memorable performances from many of opera's leading singers.

Puccini I have experienced several times, and he is known for his "dying divas," the stage littered at the end as with Shakespeare's tragedies. This opera opens with Cesare Angelotti, an escaped political prisoner, who runs into the church and hides in the Attavanti private chapel - his sister, the Marchesa Attavanti, has left a key to the chapel hidden at the feet of the statue of the Madonna. The elderly Sacristan enters and begins cleaning. Painter Mario Cavaradossi, a doomed artist, arrives to continue work on his picture of Mary Magdalene. Immediately, one senses trouble ahead.

From this modest beginning that promises no good to come, we face a would-be rape, torture and murder, and at the end of the opera, Tosca instructs her prized Cavaradossi how to play his part in a "mock execution" that becomes much too real. She assures him that he will be shot with blanks by the firing squad and instructs him how to fall down as if dead. Alas, when she discovers that he actually is dead and that the evil incarnate, Scarpia, the chief of police has betrayed her, she runs off to a parapet and hurls herself over its edge to her death.

Carlo Ventre, Cavaradossi - Adrianne Pieczonka, Tosca  Cavaradossi - Tosca  Cavaradossi  Mark Delavan, Scarpia - Tosca

Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka is impressive in the title role of Floria Tosca, attractive, good-humoured, resentful yet quick to forgive, and faced with the terrible option to sleep with the devil or allow her lover to be tortured to death. Apparently better known for her Wagner, she has sung Tosca before, and the audience rewards her for her strong voice and vibrant acting. Uruguayan tenor Carlo Ventre plays ill-fated Cavaradossi and Mark Delevan is wonderfully wicked as Scarpia.

Scarpia - Cast Scene  Tosca (foreground) - Scarpia - Spoletta  Tosca Jumps  Tosca

Bravo to the COC Orchestra, conductor Paolo Carignani, the chorus and Scottish stage director Paul Curran who fashions this co-production by the COC and the Norwegian Opera into a fine, visually attractive piece well worth viewing through February 25 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St. W. 416-363-8231

Scarpias murder by Tosca
Scarpia's murder by Tosca


The COC's Tosca, starring Adrianne Pieczonka

Interview with Adrianne Pieczonka starring as Tosca at San Francisco Opera


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