Opera Omaha Presents Puccini's "Tosca"

Opera Omaha Presents Puccini’s “Tosca”
By Corbin Hirschhorn, KVNO News
October 31st, 2017

Omaha, NE— “Tosca is an opera singer who is reasonably apolitical, living in really political times, and the politics that she’s living suddenly come and catch up with her and we watch what happens of just over the space of one day,” said Lee Bisset, opera singer playing the eponymous character. “She turns up early afternoon to see her boyfriend, and everything seems to be going just as normal. She’s got a concert in the evening and then the politics start taking over her life over a twenty-four hour period and everything changes for her.”

Tosca one of Puccini’s masterpieces of opera will be performed by Opera Omaha next weekend. Premiered in 1900, Tosca is the story of a vicious love triangle—the sadistic and lecherous police chief Scarpia stops at nothing to possess the talented singer, Floria Tosca.

“The obstacle for the audience is how well it’s known. Tosca is iconic, and there are performances that it’s hard to see beyond and so my job all the time is to give you Lee Bisset’s performance—not to give you Maria Callas’ performance or someone else that I’ve seen. So I’m always trying to chip away at the layers of things that I’ve heard other people do or seen other people do and just get away from the traditions. And because there are one hundred years worth of traditions around this piece—it’s been on so often because it’s so great—but I want to give you something that’s really genuinely about me and about the time that we are living in.”

Originally from Scotland, Bisset has performed in the UK, Sao Paulo and Cape Town, and this is her second time working with Opera Omaha since last year’s Fanciulla del West. It’s her fifth time performing Tosca, and the role still continues to evolve for her.

“This particular production is different for me and for most Toscas you see in that on day one when we met the director, she said to me she doesn’t want Tosca to be a victim. So usually, Tosca is very reactionary. She reacts to what Cavaradossi does and she reacts to what Scarpia does and she’s sort of running around. I always feel like a pinball because I’m running from one person to the other and being popped around, and in this production, we’re trying really hard to let Tosca have choices. She does some really big things and it’s really easy for those just to be instinctive because Tosca is a bit of an animal, you know. She’s a child of the earth, and just to for there to be a fraction of a thought and say for Tosca—this is a decision. I’m caught between a rock and a hard place, and I’m going to do this and that’s incredibly empowering for me as an actress and for her as a character.”

For this performance of Tosca, Opera Omaha has collaborated with the Boston Lyric Opera, and Conductor Carlos Izcaray will be making his Opera Omaha debut. One of the most striking of next week’s show is that the orchestra, typically hidden from viewers, will be right on stage.

“Of course, this is a perfect opera to see the orchestra and to be aware all the time that Tosca is a singer, and not only that, but everybody in this opera is performing. Everybody’s lying to each other all the time because, in Act two we’re in an interrogation scene, so Scarpia is manipulating. He’s lying all the time. Tosca is lying because she says she knows nothing. Cavaradossi is lying. He’s even trying to hide things from Tosca. So it sort of highlights the fact that this is a performance, so that’s great, but it also gives the audience a view of the beauty of an orchestra. You can see that the conductor is there showing everyone what to do—I don’t want to say manipulating, but in the same way that Scarpia is the puppet master, you can see that the conductor is the overall controller of everything that’s going on there.”

Opera Omaha’s Tosca will show at the Orpheum Theatre on Friday, November 3rd at 7:30pm and Sunday the 5th at 2:00pm. There will be a free lunchtime preview this Friday, October 27th at 12:15 with a talk and behind the scenes look at the story and production from Izcaray and Director Crystal Manich. Also take the chance to see one of the Opera Preludes, 20 minute discussions before next week’s performances. For more information or tickets, visit OperaOmaha.org.