Giacomo Puccini's 1900 "Tosca," one of world's most popular operas, has love, jealousy, political oppression, an evil tyrant, torture, murder, execution, a suicide leap... and great music.
But when San Francisco Opera's double-cast run of 12 performances opened Thursday, there was more: the diva took ill, the understudy stepped in, and a star was born. The young local favorite received an ovation that shook the walls of the War Memorial Opera House.
The full house greeted Angela Gheorghiu warmly in the title role when she appeared in the first act, a relief because she often cancels, although not here in The City. She sang well, but in an uncharacteristically subdued fashion.
After a longer than usual intermission, General Director David Gockley came out, and, looking stressed, announced that Gheorghiu was experiencing a sudden, severe attack of intestinal flu and being taken to the hospital.
Gockley said Melody Moore, a noted Merola-Adler program alumna, would take her place. During the half-hour it took her to get into costume, the audience milled around, buzzing. Adding to the drama was the fact Moore had never before performed the role.
The audience held its collective breath. Yet Moore appeared confident, secure and in good voice. When she sang her line to Scarpia, "I am not frightened," she was totally believable.
Another example of opera and life intertwining: When Scarpia sang "the diva is missing" (from the cantata being performed offstage), the audience burst into laughter tinged with stress.
Moore embarked on every understudy's dream, or nightmare, with ease and assurance. Her great aria, "Vissi d'arte" (I lived for art), came soon enough, and long, thunderous applause reflected appreciation and relief.
With "A Star Is Born" playing out center stage, it was difficult to pay attention to anything else. Nicola Luisotti's direction was uncharacteristically subdued in the first act, perhaps in deference to the situation, but the Te Deum soared (even with Roberto Frontali's just-good-enough Scarpia), and the orchestra was fine the rest of the evening.
Massimo Giordano's Cavaradossi was OK. He improved by the third act, but "E lucevan le stelle" (When the stars were shining) received only a smattering of accolades; Luisotti went on with the music, then halted briefly to allow the weak applause.
The opera’s alternate cast features Patricia Racette as Tosca, and another Merola-Adler rising star, Brian Jagde, as Cavaradossi.
Who will sing Tosca on Nov. 20? It is unknown at this point: either Gheorghiu, recovered, or Moore, for whom it would be a first-act debut.
Presented by San Francisco Opera
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 2 p.m. Nov. 18, Nov. 25 and Dec. 2; 8 p.m. Nov. 20, Nov. 24, Nov. 27 and Dec. 1; 7:30 p.m. Nov. 21 and Nov. 28-29
Tickets: $22 to $340
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com
Scheduled to sing
Gheorghiu, Giordano – Nov. 18, Nov. 21, Nov. 25, Nov. 28, Dec 1
Racette, Jagde – Nov. 20, Nov. 24, Nov. 27, Nov. 29, Dec. 2