At the Sunday matinee, tenor Diego Torre (Caravadossi, Tosca's artist lover) was out with a bronchial infection, and young about-to-be Met tenor Richard Crawley replaced him at a day's notice, with only minimal rehearsal time that morning. Crawley's voice seems more pleasant than powerful; his off-stage torture screams were barely audible, providing a weak motive for Tosca's desperate but misguided attempt to save him by revealing his political secret. Yet he delivered his last-act aria, "É lucevan le stelle" ("And the stars were shining"), with considerable passion, bringing down the house. (This was an odd Tosca in which the almost foolproof second act was less effective than the almost perfunctory third.) I wish he hadn't finally resorted to stock sobbing. Still, he was the day's true hero.

Among the smaller roles, 13-year-old boy soprano Ryan Williams stood out, his role changed from off-stage Shepherd Boy to on-stage Jailer's Son, singing his sweet pastoral folk song while wiping up the blood after the latest firing squad. During the first weekend of Tosca, he was also singing with the BSO.

As he had in leading BLO's The Turn of the Screw last season, conductor Andrew Bisantz tended to sacrifice longer-range momentum by dwelling on melodramatic moments. Tosca is one of Puccini's best-oiled machines. It should be unstoppable. But Bisantz stops and starts too often. This Tosca isn't stupid or incompetent (like some). Patrons get their money's worth. But for at least one jaded Tosca watcher, the work no longer holds much interest unless it's absolutely thrilling (like the hair-raising Maria Callas/Tito Gobbi DVD of act two). This production, for all its worthy international efforts, still felt like minor-league regional opera.

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