When I find myself regretting the demise of a truly odious character — as I did in the case of the Baron Scarpia in the West Bay Opera production of Tosca now being staged at the Lucie Stern Theatre — I know something extraordinary is taking place. Composer Giacomo Puccini kills off his villain at the end of Act II in this magnificent three-act opera, but so extraordinary is the voice and stage presence of Philip Skinner in the role of Scarpia, Rome's chief of police, that I feared Act III could only be a let-down.
My fears were groundless, because Mr. Skinner is only one in a cast of stand-out lead performers. Stacey Stofferahn as Floria Tosca, a celebrated singer, and David Gustafson as her lover, the artist Mario Cavaradossi, carry Act III to a rousing conclusion, with Mr. Gustafson delivering a glittering E lucevan le stelle, and the duo enthralling the audience with Ah! Franchigia a Floria Tosca and O dolci mani — a captivating display of sweet passion preceding their own demise.
Although Ms. Stofferahn seemed a bit unsteady in certain vocal registers on opening night, her singing in general displays a richness in color and impact, and her Tosca throbs with vitality. Mr. Gustafson and Mr. Skinner electrify in their performances of the two men circling the beautiful Tosca, one simmering with love, the other, lust.
This is West Bay Opera's sixth production of this verismo masterpiece, which premiered in Rome in 1900. In addition to treating the ears, this production features fine acting befitting the high-octane theatricality of the story, based on a work by French playwright Victorien Sardou.
Jose Luis Moscovich directs and conducts the orchestra; Richard Harrell is stage director. The opera is sung in Italian, with English supertitles.
West Bay Opera, based in Palo Alto, proves over and over again that you don't have to go to San Francisco to see superbly staged opera. To opera lovers — and those who are curious about this enchanting art form — Tosca calls.
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Information: Tosca will be performed at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20, at Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road in Palo Alto. Tickets: $40-$75. Call 424-9999, or go to WBOpera.org.