PICK! ASR Music ~~ Opera to Die For: Tosca in Livermore

by Jeff Dunn

Never have I been so disappointed at Scarpia’s dying as I did during Livermore Opera’s production of Tosca in Act 2. Why? Because Aleksey Bogdanov’s portrayal of the lecherous 1800 Police Chief of Rome was so world class, I wanted to scream for a new version of the plot where he avoids the knife of Tosca (lovely-voiced Ann Toomey), and goes on in person to further evil deeds in Act 3.

(L-R) Ann Toomey and Aleskey Bogdanov in “Tosca”.

The Odesa-born Bogdanov immigrated to San Francisco in 1992, and has received many accolades since his debut with the Opera Theater of St. Louis in 2008. His Scarpia has been honed, not only in accuracy, clarity, and beauty of voice, but also in dramatic facial expression and gesture. Lesser Scarpias growl out their notes so much that many listeners don’t realize that Puccini gave the role real arias to sing. All of them were there for us to revel in, thanks to Mr. Bogdanov and Bruce Donnell’s stage direction. Facially, I must point out Bogdanov’s mastery of Scarpia-mouth, a fishy circle somehow combining both sneer and command. Hypnotic.

…an unforgettable evening reviving an operatic standard…

And there were blessings beyond the must see/hear Bogdanov. Alex Boyer’s always outstanding tenor graced the role of Tosca’s lover Cavaradossi. Bojan Knežević elicited vocal resonance, physicality and audience chuckles in his characterization of the Sacristan. Kirk Eichelberger conveyed forceful desperation as the escaped prisoner Angelotti. Lily MacDonald contributed a plaintive tinge to her offstage shepherd to open Act 3. Susan Memmott Allred’s costume designs were historically appropriate, and especially lavish for Tosca and Scarpia.

(L-R) Alex Boyer and Ann Toomey in “Tosca”.

Jean-François Revon’s set designs for the first two acts were another highlight, with video mapping and effects by Frédéric Boulay. There was an almost subterranean take on the dark arches of the Church of Sant’Andreadella Valle veering off at an odd angle in Act 1, and a surprise computer manipulation of projected curtains to shut off Tosca’s offstage cantata in Act 2. The set for Act 3 seemed a bit too Spartan, with no cell for Cavaradossi. That, coupled with a lack of action on the part of the guards, made the opening of the act seem too long.

Finally, there was conductor Alex Katsman’s careful handling of the chamber orchestra and chorus, including the excellent Cantabella Children’s Chorus. I only wish he had added a little more oomph to accents in the ominous, chaconne-like accompaniment at the end of Act 2 while Tosca ponders her future and discovers the murder weapon.

“Tosca” cast at work.

Otherwise, he and all the Livermore Opera artists put together an unforgettable evening reviving an operatic standard. Even if Scarpia had to die, Bogdanov, receiving a vociferous standing ovation at the end of his act, did get to go home early to prepare more evil juice for his Sunday matinee.


Jeff Dunn is ASR’s Classical Music Section Editor. A retired educator and project manager, he’s been writing music and theater reviews for Bay Area and national journals since 1995. He is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and the National Association of Composers, USA. His musical Castle Happy (co-author John Freed), about Marion Davies and W.R. Hearst, received a festival production at the Altarena Theater in 2017. His opera Finding Medusa, with librettist Madeline Puccioni, was completed in January 2023. Jeff has won prizes for his photography, and is also a judge for the Northern California Council of Camera Clubs.

Giacomo Puccini
LibrettistGiuseppe Giacosa, Luigi Illica
DirectorBruce Donnell
Producing CompanyLivermore Opera
Production DatesMarch 4, 5, 11, 12, 2023
Production AddressThe Bankhead Theater
2400 First St, Livermore, CA 94551
Telephone(925) 373-6800
Tickets$20 - $98
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!