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The touring production of Puccini’s Tosca, performed by the Bulgarian State Opera, was the first fully-staged opera presented in the intimate and lively acoustics of Elon University’s McCrary Theatre. This work is ideal as an introduction to opera and, for the modest ticket price those new to the art form got their money’s worth. However, when this experienced opera lover measured the performance against the prevailing standards long set by the Greensboro Opera Company, the Piedmont Opera Company, Opera Carolina in Charlotte, Virginia Opera, and the polish usually achieved by both the North Carolina School of the Arts/A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute and UNC Greensboro’s School of Music, I found much that was uneven or pedestrian.
Ivan Kyurkchiev established the Bulgarian State Opera touring company in 1996 under the name Opera Verdi Europa. CVNC described their performance under that name of Verdi's La Traviata at UNCG on January 25, 2005, as "uneven but interesting." Most of their singers are drawn from a number of opera houses throughout Bulgaria and adjoining countries and their performance varies widely in quality. Elon had the good luck to get one of the company's stronger casts, a benefit of two last minute substitutions.
Soprano Galina Stoyanova certainly had the looks and plenty of raw vocal heft for the role of Tosca. Her range was pretty even and her high notes were secure for the most part. Her acting was weaker than her singing but it did improve after Act I. The area has had smoother singers as Tosca, and in 1999, Amy Johnson’s total embodiment of the character for the Greensboro Opera permanently set my critical bar very high indeed. Stoyanova’s “Vissi d’arte,” begun with her kneeling in prayer instead of the hackneyed prone position, was very finely sung.
Based on the Washington Post’s review of the company’s Tosca at George Mason University, Elon University was really lucky to get tenor Byung Lee as the Romantic artist Cavaradrossi. Despite some raw moments, he is the genuine article, possessing a winning warm timbre, an even vocal register, and the ability to put an Italianate “tear” in his voice without breaking the line. His arias had a thrilling ring to them. His acting was wooden for the most part, a fault prevalent with most of the cast.
The company is lucky to have two strong baritones for the juicy role of Scarpia! The scheduled singer, Bisser Geirgiev, was replaced by Vincenzo Vinci, who easily dominated every scene with his strong stage presence, even and polished baritone, and total involvement as an actor. His voice was gorgeous and his rapacity totally convincing. Bravo!
As the escaped prisoner Cesare Angelotti, bass Diman Panchev was more often than not drowned by the orchestra, which was consistently too loud throughout Act I. Alexandar Tekeliev brought a well-rounded baritone to the character role of the Sacristan. Tenor Dimitar Yosefov sounded timorous as Spoletta, a police agent. As Sciarrone, bass Petar Tiholov was robust. Mezzo-soprano Lina Peeva was excellent as the off-stage voice of the Shepherd Boy at the beginning of Act III. The Act II off-stage cantata performance by Stoyanova and the chorus was well done.
The stage design by Ivan Savov was more than adequate for a traveling company, easily modified for the three very different locales. His costume designs were similar in quality. Alexandar Telkeliev is a better Sacristan than a Stage Director. The production abounded in old-fashioned over-acting or bouts of wooden acting. His few non-traditional touches either distracted from key scenes or were so heavy-handed as to bring the audience to guffaws. Near the end of Act I, during the crucial scene between Scarpia and Tosca, two beggars busily wandered too actively in the background. The most ludicrous effect was the miracle of Cavaradossi’s painting of the Virgin on the wall of Scarpia’s apartment in Act II. This painting, which had been very dull at best, suddenly was backlit. A glowing blonde Madonna shed bloody tears during Tosca’s “Vissi d’arte,” and the shadow of three crosses was outlined, as Scarpia lay dead. The McCrary audience roared with laughter at the final heavy touch, a huge cross projected at the end onto the final scene and curtain.
Other than playing too loudly during Act I, the 40-member orchestra was adequate or better for the remaining acts. Conductor Nayden Todorov did not ask for any really refined dynamics or orchestral colors.