TAMPA — Sometimes an eleventh hour change turns out for the best. When the soprano scheduled to sing the title role in Tosca was dropped from the cast in rehearsal, Opera Tampa had to be concerned. But never fear, the replacement brought in on short notice, Rosa D'Imperio, is more than up to the task of portraying the passionate prima donna whose love for a heroic painter lands her in the cauldron of Europe's revolutionary politics at the turn of the 19th century.
D'Imperio has one of those big, red-blooded, Italianate voices that seems to love the Puccini orchestrations, her high notes soaring over the wall of sound from the pit. Her Vissi d'arte, Tosca's signature aria, was beautifully tender Friday night.
Gustavo Lopez-Manzitti plays Tosca's lover, Cavaradossi, and he brought impish humor to the painter's dealings with the jealous diva. He sounded a bit strained in his first-act aria, Recondita armonia, but the tenor's intense performance of E lucevan le stelle stopped the show as he awaited the firing squad.
Guido LeBron is a stellar Scarpia, a stocky figure in black, slapping his thigh with a riding crop, groping Tosca. Scarpia's Act 2 credo to cruelty was chilling.
Spoletta, Scarpia's evil aide, was given an almost Dracula-like menace by Anthony Laciura. Burly-voiced Stephan Kirchgraber plays the escaped political prisoner Angelotti. Kevin Glavin is the fussbudget sacristan.
The sets by Michael Yeargan are excellent, especially the church of Sant' Andrea della Valle, which captures the look of a great Roman church. Scarpia's red-walled lair features a torture chamber behind the bookcase.
Director Lorna Haywood staged the big crowd scene in the church — all those altar boys, choristers, clerics and worshipers — smoothly. Act 1 ends with a striking image of Scarpia piously posed on top of the scaffolding during the thunderous Te Deum.
Anton Coppola conducted, and there was something special about Friday's reading of this score the maestro knows so well, with its glistening strings, powerhouse chords for Scarpia and endlessly chiming church bells.
We are basking in the golden late autumn of Coppola's remarkable opera career that started when he was in the children's chorus of the U.S. premiere of Turandot in 1926 and still finds him in the pit at 91 years old. I can't think of another conductor who has carried on for so long, and so masterfully. It is plain that orchestra players and singers go all out when they have the chance to work with him. These are performances to cherish.
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.