Tosca, Cook County Theater Department. Director Brian Mendes has compressed Puccini’s passionate tragic opera into a playful, 75-minute multimedia deconstruction. The story remains intact – how the great diva Tosca risks all to protect Mario, her freedom-fighting lover, from the vengeful, reactionary Scarpia. Here the setting is a grand staircase whose receding steps end in a spiderweb of parachute silk; projected onto the stairs (from which the actors pop out) are paintings of the principals. The backdrop also serves as a screen for film clips (including one from an Ali fight) that sardonically mirror the action. The score, played by percussion, keyboard, and saxophone, skips most of the big arias to concentrate, curiously, on the recitatives. A dumb show with hand puppets precedes each major scene.
Playing the male roles, Gary Wilmes lurches from the bewigged monster Scarpia to valiant Mario, unsuccessfully stretching his voice to meet their ranges in snippets of Italian and English. Clad in a bloodred dress Vicki Walden makes Tosca a performing doll, either demure or strident. Her singing barely meets the opera’s minimal demands. Clearly homage is not the point. But the mocking opening-night audience aside, this is not a parody either. Put this Tosca down as an ambitious but failed attempt to re-create outsize emotion in a scaled-down showcase. Unfortunately, whether it’s blown up or shrunken, the grandiloquence gets lost. More feeling and less concept would make all the difference.