By Julie Garisto, AliveTampaBay Correspondent
This weekend, we’re fortunate to have the opportunity to see a first-rate production of Tosca by Giacomo Puccini (La Boheme, Madama Butterfly and Turandot).
The distinctive emotional melodic sweep of Puccini’s score is interpreted on point by the highly accomplished Maestro Daniel Lipton, who leads the Opera Tampa Orchestra and Chorus with Jeffrey Buchman directing the production.
Principals include Lisa Houben as the titular diva Floria Tosca, Cesar Antonio Sanchez (Mario Cavaradossi) and Mark Walters (Scarpia). The company also includes Kevin Thompson (Angelotti), Peter Strummer (Sacistan), Peter Joshua Burroughs (Spoletta), Christopher Holloway (Sciarrone), Franco Rios-Castro (the Jailer) and Louisa Ramirez-Flynn (the Shepard). Presented in Italian with English translations projected above the stage, the production is sponsored in part by Dr. Zena Lansky and Mr. Warren Rodgers.
Whether you’re already an opera aficionado or are willing to experience the classic performing arts genre for the first time, there are three compelling reasons you should experiencing Opera Tampa’s production:
1. Of course, the musical and vocal talent.
Houben and Sanchez fill the room with their pitch-perfect belt-outs. Coupled with the Maestro Lipton’s expert timing and his impeccable orchestra’s gut-socking crescendos, the climaxes of favorite arias like E lucevan le stelle leave the viewer almost literally shaken and stirred.
2. The production value.
From the elegant gowns and historically accurate uniforms to moody lighting replete with fog for mood-setting affect and its clever backdrops, there is nothing cheap or amateurish about the look of Opera Tampa’s production.
3. Its timeless sociopolitical relevance — especially resonant today as we fear shifting political regimes and the impending oppression of art and free speech, and other civil liberties.
Tosca and her beloved Mario aren’t the only Puccini principals to deal with oppression. The composer became legendary for his characters struggling against oppressive forces — whether it’s Madama Butterfly’s concubine Cio-Cio San or the struggling poet Rodolfo in La Boheme, we’re entreated into the world of artists and fringe dwellers in turbulent times. They live out allegories to power struggles on the world stage.
Writer Lisa Kramer Reichel reminds us that Tosca to be the only grand opera tied to a precise time and setting. Puccini’s historical opera takes place during a critical time in the military campaigns of the French general (and later Emperor) Napoleon Bonaparte. During the final years of the 1700s, Napoleon’s invasion of Italy by and his French armies resulted in the expulsion of the old dynastic rulers, including the Papacy. Radical French republics or states set up in northern Italy and in Naples. The city of Rome became the Roman Republic, of which, in Tosca, the political prisoner/fugitive Angelotti was a former consul.
While Napoleon was far away in Egypt in 1799, another movement was brewing. Queen Maria Carolina of Austria — wife of the defeated King of Naples, Ferdinando IV, and sister of Marie Antoinette — began a regal coup to bring back dominance to wealthy imperials. Her forces took out anyone in opposition — which included thousands of republicans and free-thinking liberals and anyone who had supported French rule. Meanwhile in Floria Tosca’s Rome, Napoleon’s army regained ground with the help of General Desaix who, in real life, lost his life in the effort. During the second act of the opera, news arrives of the defeat of the monarchy. Mario belts out “Victory” in front of monarchy police chief Scarpia, who orders Mario to be dragged off to prison.
Also during the second act, we witness the attempted rape of Tosca. Amid the melodrama, we can relate to the urgency of Tosca fighting off the advances of Scarpia and Mario risking his own life to help his fugitive friend.
Flash forward to today. PBS, which helped many of us first fall in love with opera with its televised programming from the Met, is at risk of running out of federal funding as our President grants favor to friends with both new and old money. Women are losing their medical rights and are protesting for equal pay. Organizations like Opera Tampa themselves are struggling to stay funded to maintain a standard of excellence.
The ongoing struggle against stubbornly cyclical socio-political movements initiated by old money are ingeniously and artfully crystallized in the struggles of Puccini’s tormented tenors and sopranos. This couldn’t be truer in Tosca.