The Wyner was part of a long evening that was the first major salvo for full chorus and orchestra in this Cantata Singers season exploring the music of British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958). The two gorgeous VW works were Flos Campi ("Rose of Sharon"), a six-part piece for wordless chorus, orchestra, and solo viola (the warmly eloquent William Frampton) inspired by The Song of Songs, and the simultaneously playful and melancholy Oboe Concerto, written for the great British oboist Leon Goossens, with Peggy Pearson playing as vividly, imaginatively, and soulfully as any oboist I've ever heard.
Hoose is always looking for new contexts, and he surrounded the Vaughan Williams with pieces that reverberated with that composer's tapestry-like orchestrations and understated resignation. Not only the new commission, but also the late Andrew Imbrie's early (1949) and unusually affecting setting of Whitman's poignant "On the Beach at Night" (about a father and daughter watching the autumn sky — a wonderful preparation for Wyner's Whitman) and, at the end, Hoose's new and convincingly idiomatic orchestration of Irving Fine's The Choral New Yorker (originally for chorus and solo piano), in which four minor New Yorker poems (circa 1927–1930), comic and sentimental light verse, transcend their own playfulness and become a full-hearted universal lament.
Boston Lyric Opera has imported the Scottish National Opera production of Puccini's popular potboiler Tosca (at the Shubert Theatre through November 16), in which Napoleonic Rome has been updated to the Fascist era (with references to Buonaparte deleted). And though Peter Rice's luxuriously detailed sets (including a room at the Farnese Palace and the rooftop of the Castel Sant'Angelo) and Paul Hackenmueller's atmospheric lighting are quite striking, David Lefkowich's staging is essentially conventional despite his novelty changes to the libretto. Like having Tosca, on the verge of being raped by the ruthless police chief Baron Scarpia, drop the knife with which she's about to stab him and then grab a pair of scissors to do the job ("Dial T for Tosca"). Or having her toss aside the cross she's about to place on the dead Scarpia's chest, an act that (in contravention of the original stage directions) simplifies her conflicted religious feelings and hardens her character. Puccini's rhapsodic music seems only more artificial and melodramatic in the more modern setting.
As Tosca, soprano Jill Gardner doesn't do much to create an indelible character (or wasn't helped to do so). What's most wrong with this production is its odd mixture of the overstated (characters dropping to their knees or waving their arms) and the underpowered, even overly careful. In order to support the final high note in her big aria, "Vissi d'arte" ("I lived for art"), Gardner undermined Puccini's momentum and our sense of Tosca's desperation by taking a big breath in the middle of the climactic phrase. She has a nicely focused voice, but it doesn't have the weight or variety of color a Tosca needs, and it tends to clamp into a squeak at the very top. Her brave final backward leap off the high castle roof, however, was a coup de théâtre.
The audience went wildest for baritone Bradley Garvin's Scarpia. His lean and surprisingly youthful good looks make him a real sexual threat, and his voice, though not enormous, is firm and resonant. But wouldn't Scarpia be more menacing if he were played as a plausible human being rather than as a snarling stage villain? I'm sure Garvin could do it with the proper guidance.