Tenor Riccardo Massi stole the show at the Washington National Opera last night as Mario Cavaradossi in Puccini’s Tosca. He was a stunner in tone, technicality, and theatrical flair. In contrast, it was difficult to say whether Speranza Scappucci’s lead conducting or soprano Keri Alkema’s heavy timbre (in the title role) made for the sluggish tempos that plagued throughout.
But the set, a classic Italian Catholic period piece that Seattle Opera provided, was the real yawner. The future of opera cannot be these sets. Give me Robert Wilson’s hues–for that matter, give me anything in Germany, France, or the Netherlands that know how to bring opera war horses into the twenty-first century with intuitive design, lighting, and inspiration that moves beyond the literal. It’s a central reason why opera feels old to the younger generation and perhaps also why critics have hailed the art form long dead.
In contrast to the dull, dusty contours someone imagined was period-appropriate Catholic Italy, the end of the first act threw me satisfyingly against the back of my velvet seat. The cathedral set rolled up into the eaves, and the chorus took the stage shining in white light against a simple black backdrop. Leave your marble pillars behind. Bring on the architecture of now.