• Todd Rosenberg
  • Brian Jagde as Mario Cavaradossi and Tatiana Serjan as Tosca in Lyric Opera’s production of Puccini’s Tosca

On January 12, Lyric Opera general director Anthony Freud announced that Misha Didyk, the Ukrainian tenor scheduled for the leading role of Mario Cavaradossi in Puccini’s Tosca had dropped out of the production “for personal reasons.”

Opening night was just 12 days away. But a replacement had been found: a rising young American tenor, Brian Jagde (it’s pronounced Jade), would be stepping in, making his Lyric debut. In the announcement, Freud thanked the Portland Opera for releasing Jagde from a conflicting engagement there.

It was so rushed that Freud’s note in the program book distributed at Saturday’s opening still cited Didyk as Mario.

Not to worry! In a revelation to an audience who hadn’t heard him before, Jagde and his Tosca, Russian soprano Tatiana Serjan, also in her Lyric Opera debut, delivered standout performances. (No surprise about Serjan for those who’d heard her in CSO’s concert version of Verdi’s Macbeth, conducted by Riccardo Muti last season.) The abrupt departure from plan resulted in an inspired pairing: two wonderful acting singers with the extraordinary voices that make for opera legend.

The production, on the other hand, directed by John Caird and commissioned for Houston Grand Opera when Freud was there, is as dark and gloomy as the opera is tragic. It plays out in a big gray box, with costumes that confusingly place Tosca in a future historical context, nearly a century ahead of its setting amid political corruption in Rome in the year 1800. A painting that’s an important first-act prop looked weirdly anachronistic. And the villain of the piece, Scarpia (bass-baritone Evgeny Nikitin), who can steal the show, doesn’t.

Never mind those quibbles, but be aware that these leads are only here for the first five performances; after Feburary 5 they’ll be replaced by a second cast (soprano Hui He, tenor Jorge de Leon, and baritone Mark Delavan) performing through March 14. Dmitri Jurowski conducts; it’s sung in Italian with English supertitles.