This review first appeared on  on 7/24/16

Striking Visuals Are Just the Beginning of This Tosca


Puccini would have been proud of the Cincinnati Opera’s Tosca, which opened on Saturday night at the Aronoff Center for the Arts.

First, there are the sets by Robert Perdziola—imaginative and yet fastidiously accurate, starting with the Act I Santa Maria degli Angeli pulpit that spins to reveal the church’s main altar for the Te Deum at the act’s end. Act II is ideal for Scarpia and devoid of any unnecessary paraphernalia, except a gigantic map of Italy and a daybed which he uses to force himself on Tosca, and Act III has an early-morning view of Rome complete with St. Peter’s dome in the distance. And, at the risk of applauding the visuals for far too long, Perdziola’s costumes are elegant and period-perfect, and Thomas C. Hasse bathes everything with light to complete perfection.

Director Jose Maria Condemi brings a complete command of the text and the music—elucidating, clarifying and highlighting key moments. At the end of Act II, the killing of Scarpia and the aftermath are as well-staged as this writer has ever seen.

From the moment the three “Scarpia chords” appear (before the curtain goes up), a bolt of energy arrives from the pit, and comes back again and again, thanks to the idiomatic conducting of Christopher Allen. He draws every bit of Puccini’s grandeur from the musicians and then delivers the key moments of lyricism with suppleness and sensitivity.

Evelina Dobračeva leaves no doubt that Floria Tosca is a diva, but her acting of the role is honest and down-to-earth. In addition to being a ravishing beauty, Ms. Dobračeva is an intelligent singer who inflects every word with meaning. And she can sing: the role is full of traps for any soprano not up to the task. Her two extended scenes with Mario and her Act II Vissi d’arte were beautifully sung, and her tug-of-war with Scarpia (also in Act II) allowed her to freely use parlando for those moments in which bel canto is not what’s needed.

Marcello Giordani has the elegance of bearing and vocal equipment to bring home both his Act I Recondita armonia and the impassioned delivery needed for the final act’s E lucevan le stelle. In between he holds his own in the company of a first-class cast, utterly believable as a dashing artist caught up in a political maelstrom. A superb spinto tenor, Giordani uses a carefree squillo to stylishly take on the high notes that abound.

Gordon Hawkins is a superb Scarpia: terrifying in the big moments, unctuous and reptilian in others, and he never resorts to barking. Instead, he but actually sings the notes, rock-solid over the entire two scenes Puccini allots him. The supporting roles were ably filled by Evan Boyer, Marco Cammarota, Samuel Smith and Christian Pursell, with bass Peter Strummer hilariously portraying the Sacristan.

The Cincinnati Opera keeps scaling new heights. Ensconced in the acoustically-superb Aronoff Center for the Arts for this and next season, the company should feel proud of its accomplishments and successes.

Rafael de Acha





On a visit to Havana in December of 2015 I had the opportunity to hear an impromptu informal concert by the superb chamber choir Coro Vocal Leo. The group’s leader, Corina Campos gave us a gift of their CD, a sampler of 18 tracks featuring a cross-section of the group’s wide-ranging repertoire.

The sopranos dominate the melody with a sweet upper range sound in Chanchullo, Lagrimas negras and El Manisero but in typical Cuban fashion, a mezzo-soprano, the sassy Caterine Garrido chimes in an earthy belt that reminds the listener of the pop roots of much of this music.

Leo Brouwer, unarguably the dean of contemporary Cuban composers, provides three selections from his collection of De Rondas, refranes y trabalenguas – a brace of rhythmically complex tongue twisters based on children’s songs and fables. The Coral Leo group is spot-on, flawless in pitch in passages that skirt tonality and always vocally solid, with a plush sound all its own.

Roberto Valera – a name unknown to me before hearing three of his songs –The Young Girl is Very Quiet, Do you know a fire that gives off no heat? and A Very Fast Dance, writes in a vibrantly modern, melodic idiom that rightfully belongs in and embraces the world of concert music for choir for which he writes.

Guido López-Gavilán provides three charming numbers for the group: the languorous Nostalgias de Serenatas, the percussive mambo Qué Rico é that turns the singers into a rhythm section as good as that of any orchestra, and the sensually chromatic Yo no quiero mas luz que tu cuerpo which draws from the group a cool instrumental sound devoid of any obstructive vibrato.

Buenos Aires, Hora Zero, in an arrangement for choir by Nestor Zadoff  sung so idiomatically that one does not for a moment miss the original instrumental version of Astor Piazzola.

Venezuelan Modesta Bohr authored the rapturous La Mañana Ajena and Manuel Briceño penned the stunning Prelude and Fugue, Oiga, compa é, both of them getting a brilliant delivery by the group.

The spirituals Wade in the Water, I want Jesus and Glory, glory, glory to the new-born King are sung by the group with a fervor that, Cuban in its rhythmic underpinning and roots, still crosses the waters that divide us from the isle 90 miles from our shores and reaches out in a uniting musical embrace that touches the listener.

The engineering of the CD is good, though sadly not credited. The packaging is lacking in background information and composers’ bios. But the music-making is classy and bold and leaves one longing for an American label to re-release this CD in the USA.

Any takers out there?

Rafael de Acha




The Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra begins its 20-day Summer Festival season with Musik de la Nuit, a kick off party at the historic Maxwellton House on August 12, 2016. Things then get down to musical business with a series of concerts that will also function as auditions for the coveted post of music director of the CCO. Four candidates are in line for the post: Daniel Meyer, Christopher Zimmerman, Sarah Ioannides and Eckart Preu.

The concerts will be given at the SCPA (School for the Creative and Performing Arts) and in various locations around town.

Opening Night: Saturday August 13, 8 pm. SCPA.

Haydn – Symphony No. 85, La Reine; Ravel – Piano Concerto in G Major, with Joyce Yang, piano; Copland – Music for Movies; Ravel – Mother Goose Suite. Daniel Meyer, conducts.

A Little Afternoon Musik: C’est si Bon-Bon: Sunday, August 14, 4 pm. Wyoming Fine Arts Center.

Debussy – First movement from String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 10; Debussy – Twelfth movement from Preludes; Ravel – Second movement from String Quartet in F Major; Massenet – Meditation from Thais; Gershwin – Prelude No. 2 in C-sharp Minor; Ravel – Second movement from Violin Sonata No. 2; Faure – Third and fourth movements from Piano Quartet No. 1 in C Minor. Joyce Yang, piano, CCO String Quartet

On Tuesday, August 16 at 8 pm at Bromwell’s Harth Lounge, and on Friday, August 19 at 8 pm at The Cabaret at Below Zero, there will be the CCO’s now traditional Chamber Crawls featuring woodwind and brass players from among the ranks of the CCO, mixing it up with crossover fare from the classical, jazz and pop worlds.

The second full concert of the CCO on Saturday August 20th will be led by Christopher Zimmerman. Titled Rhythmic Strings, it will bring the music of Elgar’s Opus 47, Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires and climax with Beethoven’ s Symphony No. 7. The violin soloist, Chee Yun will return the following day for a 4 pm concert at the Greenacres Art Center in which more Piazzolla will balance out the Central and Eastern European strains of Kodály and Prokofiev along with movements for strings by Handel and Ravel.

More Chamber Crawls and more Little Afternoon Music programs will provide the informality that is gaining a growing and younger audience for SUMMERMUSIK. For complete program details it is best to visit the SUMMERMUSIK website at

Sarah Ioannides will lead the CCO in an eclectic program that includes Rossini’s Overture to La Cambiale di Matrimonio, Poulenc’s Sinfonietta, Milhaud’s The Creation of the World and a world premiere: Roberto Sierra’s Caribbean Rhapsody, featuring saxophonist James Carter. The following day at 4 pm at the Cincinnati Art Museum, Carter will play in another groove when joined by the jazz trio of the Cincinnati Contemporary Jazz Orchestra in more Poulenc, Claude Bolling, Paquito D’Rivera and a couple of Carter’s own compositions.

SUMMERMUSIK’s final concert in this summer’s lineup will be helmed by Eckart Preu. The program begins with Miguel del Águila’s Conga-Line in Hell, and has as its centerpiece the world premiere of Daniel Bjarnason’s Bow to String, with cellist Joshua Roman as soloist. Also offered, Copland’s Appalachian Spring Suite, Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No. 1 again with Roman in the spotlight and Mozart’s Paris Symphony round out the program.

Hats off to the CCO’s Director of Artistic Planning, Peter Landgren, who carefully planned the festival with its French through-line, and to all at the CCO for their innovative, eminently down-to-earth style of presenting and marketing good music in Cincinnati.

Rafael de Acha