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RUSSIAN PRODUCTION SINGS

Opera review

Tosca

Puccini's standard, performed by the Stanislavsky Opera Company

Wednesday at Shea's Performing Arts Center

She didn't jump!

That was the exclamation on everyones lips following the Stanislavsky Opera Company's production of Puccini's "Tosca," Wednesday at Shea's Performing Arts Center.

Make no mistake: Floria Tosca, ably sung by Irina Arkadieva, did kill herself. But she didn't hurl herself from the parapet of the Castel Sant' Angelo. Instead, she stabbed herself, with the same knife she had used to kill Scarpia.

How novel!

But, to be honest, the liberty the performers took really didn't matter. The Stanislavsky Opera Company, until now a completely unknown quantity in these parts, was a pleasant surprise.

This was a tense, beautiful "Tosca." The troupe came from Russia equipped with an orchestra big and enthusiastic enough that at times it threatened to drown out the singers. (Scarpia, though feared by all of Rome, was no match for this small army of musicians.)

Arkadieva had a clear, resonant soprano. She brought a bright personality to her role, and a strong dramatic sense. While she didn't put any special personal stamp on "Vissi d' arte," her phrasing was lovely and her delivery was extremely moving. Her duet with Cavaradossi in Act III had tremendous pathos.

Scarpia was sung by Alexander Baskin -- who, though his voice wasn't terribly strong, projected a quiet ferocity, haunting and very frightening.

The vocal star of the evening was tenor Mikhail Vishnyak, who was the kind of Cavaradossi an operagoer sees too rarely. He was heartbreaking to watch. (That last act, when the poor painter is sitting there awaiting execution, has to be one of the most pathetic in all opera, which is saying a mouthful.) Even more importantly, he was thrilling to hear. His cry of exultation upon hearing the news of Bonaparte's victory absolutely filled Shea's, and gave the sizable crowd its first taste of what he really could do. "E lucevan le stelle," his famous Act III aria, packed real power, the high notes ringing and confident.

The sets were spare but mostly effective (a few touches, such as a tall, cylindrical cage in Scarpia's chambers, were puzzling). Dawn in Act III was beautifully depicted with color and light.

The young, energetic orchestra featured some very good soloists. Cavaradossi's Act III gained emotion from a fine clarinet solo, and the strings, too, played very well. Conductor Felix Korobov kept the horrific story moving.

Buffalo won this game of Russian roulette. I'd like to see this troupe come back.

e-mail: mkunz@buffnews.com

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