Voices Soar While Fear Stalks the Streets

Oct 31, 2017

The Reader: Voices Soar While Fear Stalks the Streets

Two artists who love each other deeply don’t know that death lies in wait. Opera star Floria Tosca and painter Mario Cavaradossi see the world around them differently. Her passion is for her art. Mario envisions a better world, one without corruption and a political system that punishes dissent. He sympathizes with his friend Angelotti, an escaped political prisoner, whose flight Mario aids.

The flight is where inevitable fate takes off. You know the story of this Puccini opera. Mario will be arrested and threatened with death by evil Baron Scarpia, who, lusting for Tosca, tries to have her yield to him by offering to free Cavaradossi. Torture. Murder. Suicide. It does not work out.

In June 1800 the Bourbon’s Kingdom of Naples' control of Rome is threatened by Napoleon. Scarpia’s aim is to capture, torture and execute all those opposed to Bourbon rule. Interestingly, this story is based on fact. The opera is a re-working of Victorien Sardou's 1887 French-language dramatic play, La Tosca. Sardou depicted real people of that time, including Tosca, basing her character on that of Sarah Bernhardt.

Puccini, librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa worked with Sardou on the adaptation, making sure that the eponymous heroine would have multiple dimensions, an innocent victim, a jealous lover, a transcendent artist, a pious believer and (spoiler!) an angry murderess.

That’s background for what some critics find overly melodramatic. It’s actually Puccini’s music that makes this legend live on and thrive. Devotees thrill to enduring arias and magnificent orchestrations in this through-composed triumph, enriched by Wagner-like leitmotifs.

In this co-production of Opera Omaha and Boston Lyric Opera, Lee Bissit has the title role; she glittered here in 2016 as Puccini’s “Girl of the Golden West.” Jonathan Burton appears as Cavaradossi, a return for him to Omaha having sung Don Jose in “Carmen” in 2013. Scarpia is performed by Malcolm MacKenzie who’s been seen and heard at the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, Washington National Opera and many more.

Also returning with Puccini credits is director Crystal Manich; she staged “La Bohème” last fall. Plus the work of scene designer Julia Noulin-Mérat is visible anew; she designed Bartók’s “Bluebeard’s Castle” in 2013. Conductor Carlos Izcaray makes his Opera Omaha debut.

Tosca lived for art (“Vissi d’Arte”) but death was everywhere she stood.

Opera Omaha presents “Tosca” November 3 & 5 at the Orpheum Theater 409 S. 16th Street. Friday: 7:30 p.m. Sunday: 2 p.m. Tickets: $19-$99. www.operaomaha.org

by Gordon Spencer
October 31, 2017 12:00 PM

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