Atlanta Opera’s newly appointed general and artistic director, Tomer Zvulun, started the company’s 2013–14 season with a tasteful production of Puccini’s Tosca (seen Oct. 5). Zvulun, who is not yet forty, is a sought-after stage director who will manage the affairs of A.O. while fulfilling prior directing commitments at the Met, Boston Lyric Opera and Kansas City Opera this season. Zvulun’s previous stagings for Atlanta — Der Fliegende Holländer, Lucia di Lammermoor and The Magic Flute — have been highlights of the company’s recent seasons. Next season (2014–15) will be the first for which Zvulun will have full planning responsibility; his intention is to increase the company’s offerings from three productions to four by collaborating with other arts organizations in the metro Atlanta area.
In his Tosca, Zvulun didn’t update the action from the traditional setting of late eighteenth-century Rome — the action takes place in June 1800 — nor did he give Scarpia any appalling stage business to make him seem even more scurrilous. Rather, Zvulun observed conventional performance practice and let the opera speak for itself.
When baritone Mark Delavan, originally announced for Baron Scarpia, cancelled the engagement, Atlanta Opera was able to find an acceptable replacement in Luis Ledesma. Ledesma, a former winner of the Pavarotti International Voice Competition, is adept and attractive, but in vocal terms he was no match for his Tosca, soprano Kara Shay Thomson. Thomson has a sizeable voice with a lovely command of nuance, especially in regard to color and dynamics. While some sopranos choose to underscore this heroine’s melodramatic qualities, Thomson emphasized Tosca’s vulnerability.
Massimiliano Pisapia completed the love triangle as Mario Cavaradossi. The tenor wowed the audience with his bravado, brilliant voice and exceptional high notes. He transformed Cavaradossi from a lovesick painter to a credible revolutionary.
Arthur Fagen continues to hone the sound of the Atlanta Opera Orchestra, but clearly it will take time. By and large the ensemble was good, yet moments of poor intonation were difficult to ignore; one such instance occurred during the vital statements of the well motif in Act II, after Tosca has revealed Angelotti’s hiding place.
The grand sets depicting the church of Sant’ Andrea della Valle, the Palazzo Farnese and the prison Castel Sant’Angelo were designed by Andrew Horn and rented from Fort Worth Opera. They were a good investment, transporting the audience to Puccini’s Rome immediately and requiring little suspension of disbelief.