"Some interpreters of Tosca’s antagonist, the sadistic superintendent of Rome’s Stasi-esque police, Barone Scarpia, inspire hatred solely by delivering the part’s music with Sprechstimme more appropriate for Berg’s Wozzeck than for a Puccini rôle. The villainy of baritone Malcolm MacKenzie’s Scarpia was all the more startling for being enlivened by appealing, impeccably-controlled vocalism. Not once in his commanding portrayal of the loathsome reprobate did he resort to shouting or snarling. At his first entrance, his declamation of ‘Un tal baccano in chiesa!’ instantaneously heightening the tension of the scene, it was apparent that faith was little more than a weapon in this Scarpia’s arsenal, one that he used to his advantage in manipulating the pious Tosca’s jealousy. MacKenzie’s Scarpia was unquestionably a bully but a treacherously seductive one, voicing ‘Tosca gentile la mano mia la vostra aspetta’ with chilling sultriness. In the final scene of Act One, the brash arrogance of MacKenzie’s portrayal indicated that Scarpia’s boldness before the Madonna was born not of a supplicant’s trust in intercession and absolution but of a misogynist’s sense of superiority.
The self-satisfaction with which MacKenzie sang ‘Tosca è un buon falco!’ at the start of Act Two made Scarpia’s stratagem sickeningly lucid. It was again the superb caliber of his singing that ignited the baritone’s characterization. The duplicity of the baron’s civility in questioning Cavaradossi was exemplified by MacKenzie’s mellow enunciation of ‘Ed or fra noi da buoni amici,’ his ability to adapt vocal colorations to nuances of text allied with unassailable technical assurance. There was a maddening insouciance in his pronouncement of ‘Nel pozzo del giardino - Va, Spoletta,’ his show of indifference calculated to insinuate that Tosca’s betrayal of Angelotti’s location was similarly nonchalant. MacKenzie’s portrayal assumed a dimension of Shakespearean equivocation in the fateful scene with Tosca, the artifice of his chivalrous courtship accentuating his sardonic lust. Although protracted death struggles are not incompatible with the innate cowardice that escalates Scarpia’s cruelty, the lack of histrionics with which MacKenzie’s Scarpia expired was considerably more effective. [Admittedly, the melodrama of Scarpia’s death was commandeered in this performance by Tosca, whose repeated stabbing of Scarpia was disconcertingly cathartic, even receiving enthusiastic applause from the audience.] Eschewing excess, MacKenzie out-sang a number of the Tosca discography’s most acclaimed interpreters of Scarpia, bringing to the Raleigh stage a magnificently-sung performance of the rôle that made compelling virtues of the baron’s voice-battering vices."
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