Austin Opera performs ‘Tosca’ at COTA despite rainy weather
Under ideal circumstances, producing an opera on a large scale is a gigantic task.
Now try to do this during a pandemic outside on a wet spring night in Austin.
Envisioning an epic spectacle that businesses several times its size wouldn’t risk during the current health crisis, Austin Opera, arguably the bravest of its kind in America, decided to stage Puccini’s masterpiece “Tosca” at the Circuit of the Americas, the city’s Formula 1 racetrack.
Just to equip the Germania Insurance amphitheater stage for the work of handling an opera must have seemed overwhelming. Still, COTA management graciously gave Austin Opera two full weeks to adjust to the space – and the troupe ran with it.
During the week before the opening, severe storms hit central Texas. Still, on April 29 in the early afternoon, Austin Opera sent word: A left behind “Tosca” was on for tonight.
Getting to the racetrack was no problem. Parking was also not. We chose a free field and a shuttle quickly transported us to the 14,000-guest amphitheater, located less than a mile away.
We sat in a slightly elevated section not far from the stage. A constant mist enveloped us. I heard what I thought was thunder, but came to recognize it like the muffled sounds of planes taking off from the nearby airport.
A few minutes after curtain hour, the opera CEO and General Manager Annie Burridge and director David Lefkowich addressed the audience, which included participants spread across a high lawn behind the seating area.
The duo explained how light rain could unduly affect the orchestra’s instruments. So there would be a wait to see if the weather would dry up a bit.
The duo entertained us with stories of other challenges. The orchestra, for example, normally repeats three times. Yet on two occasions at COTA, temperatures plunged into the 1940s, which would have endangered the instruments, so the musicians settled inside. Still, they needed at least one rehearsal outside to adjust the sound levels, so large diesel radiators were brought onto the stage.
To make matters worse, Friday before opening night another of those spring storms tore the amphitheater and torn the landscape apart. The big letters supposed to spell “Viva Il Duce” for this staging in Fascist Italy ended up being simply “Viva”.
“If you’ve been familiar with this opera,” Burridge joked from the stage at the opening night of Puccini’s bloody melodrama, “there’s not a lot of life. In fact, it’s the opposite.”
About 15 minutes later, the musicians packed the last of their instruments and left the stage. The first act began, instead, with the reduced backing of an electronic piano, which, although played well, made the church scene ring with its shattering “Te Deum” like a silent movie from days gone by. .
That said, the three main players turned out to be magnificent.
Adam Smith’s tenor reached the heights of the surrounding track, as he behaved with unwavering loyalty and heroism as a painter Cavaradossi. Dressed in Mussolini’s costume like the brutal Scarpia, Aleksey Bogdanov commanded the scene, while his baritone aroused our aversion to the lascivious tyrant of “Go, Tosca”. Latonia Moore, as the title mercurial opera singer, revealed the humor and humanity behind the diva’s little jealousy, while her soprano provided a brilliant display of vocal color.
After act 1, the night was no longer young and the fog melted very slowly into a light rain. My guest and I decided to hit the road before it was too late.
My editor, sitting across the house, stayed. She reports that an on-stage deliberation meeting at the end of the break sent the musicians and their instruments back to safety backstage.
And yet the show must go on. And it did. A good number of people stayed behind as the rain cleared, but the crowds on the hill became more patchy.
Everyone, however, has witnessed a miracle: full-scale live, in-person opera in early 2021. We have sorely missed this over the past 14 months.
With all my heart, I cannot tell you how proud I am of Burridge and his team, and all of the Trustees who have supported them, for this noble outing.
At 10 a.m. on April 30, Burridge posted this commentary on the upcoming performance:
Thursday and Saturday night ticket holders will be invited to return to the next performance on Sunday. The forecast seems pretty definitive right now with a 90% chance of rain on Saturday night and a 1% chance of rain on Sunday night.
“We will also make the HD capture of the upcoming performance available to all ticket holders as a live stream,” she said, “and the better capture of the two performances will be available to ticket holders upon request. tickets in the coming weeks. “
Michael Barnes writes about the people, places, culture and history of Austin and Texas. He can be contacted at [email protected]