There are reasons why Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca has been performed almost 900 times at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. “Tosca is a really, really good introduction to opera,” says soprano Marcy Stonikas. “It’s one of those shows that can convert people who have never seen opera. It’s got the good story — violence and revenge — it’s got a love story, and then there’s all this amazing music; tons of ear-worms that you just can’t get out of your head.”
This weekend is poised to be Tosca-intensive for Santa Barbarans. Not only will the Puccini favorite find simulcast in the Met’s Live in HD program on Saturday at the Arlington — Opera Santa Barbara is also staging Tosca live at the Granada Theatre on Friday and Sunday for the company’s 20th season-opening production. “That’s like a ‘You can’t have too much Jell-O’ kind of thing, for me,” said Stonikas. “I would see it four times in the same weekend, if I could. I seriously love it that much; it’s such a great show!”
Stonikas, a Music Academy of the West alum, will bring her enthusiasm and award-winning vocal gifts to the title role in her debut with Opera Santa Barbara. Make that a double debut: The First Prize winner in the Wagner Division of the 2013 Gerda Lissner Foundation Vocal Competition will be singing Tosca for the first time, too. “It’s kind of a roller coaster because there are so many emotions she goes through in such a short amount of time. Obviously there are always vocal implications — it’s not like it’s an easy sing. The whole show’s about pacing as far as what’s happening emotionally for the character; figuring that out, and not going too far. The good part about Tosca is she’s very real. I just finished [Richard Strauss’s] Salome, and it’s much more difficult trying to figure out how to make her real, whereas with Tosca, I can tap right into being an opera singer — I know how to do that!”
Puccini’s foray into the raw naturalism of verismo sings the tragic tale of the diva Floria Tosca and her lover, the painter Mario Cavaradossi, who are caught in the tumultuous politics of Rome in 1800, just as Napoleon arrives to break the Neapolitan rule. The seamless mesh of story and music is astonishing. “No other opera in the repertory,” wrote music critic Alex Ross, “is so immaculately crafted to deliver its thrills on cue.”
Stonikas agrees. “It would be really hard to do a production where you take liberties and do anything you wanted to do, because the music — it’s like a movie soundtrack, honestly. There is so much happening. If you don’t do the right thing, as the music dictates, it would be really odd. It wouldn’t play right. There are very obvious musical cues throughout the opera — which is cool. Puccini was brilliant.”
At the heart of the opera is a love triangle consisting of Tosca, Cavaradossi (tenor Christopher Bengochea), and villainous chief of secret police, Baron Scarpia (baritone Luis Ledesma). Stonikas couldn’t ask for better collaborators than Bengochea and Ledesma, both veterans with their respective roles. “We’ve been having a great time,” said Ledesma during a conference call with the three principals last week. “First of all, we have great chemistry between Marcy, Christopher, and myself. And of course having Maestro Christopher Larkin and [Artistic Director] José [Maria Condemi] has been really a joy.”
All three agree that Tosca stands best on its own, without modern innovations and elaborate sets. “Puccini wrote this as a pure masterpiece, and you really can’t mess with it too much,” Bengochea said.
“The set is not grandiose, but I think that’s really great because you can focus on the action and characters,” Stonikas added. “You don’t have to worry so much about what the curtains look like.”
Opera Santa Barbara presents Tosca at the Granada Theatre (1214 State St.) on Friday, November 8, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, November 10, at 2:30 p.m. Call (805) 899-2222 or visit granadasb.org for tickets and info.