Full-throated if not quite fully staged, it’s ‘Tosca’

When it comes to opera, Giacomo Puccini is one of the genre’s most successful composers. And when it comes to Puccini, Tosca ranks as one of his most popular. On Saturday the Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera brings Tosca to the Community Center Theater stage—or should one say “semi-stage”? The SPO’s website describes it as, “A dramatic semi-staged production, with English supertitles.”

In a concert performance of an operatic work, the singers simply stand in front of the orchestra, often with scores in their hands, and take turns singing their parts. In a fully staged production the orchestra is confined to the pit and only the singers are on stage, arrayed in costumes and moving about the scenery and props in accordance with a stage director’s production design. Between the two poles lies a spectrum of performance art described as “semi-staged.”

Director Mark Streshinsky intends to provide the Sacramento audience with as complete an operatic experience as possible. “The only difference in my mind between a concert staging and a full staging is that there is no set and the orchestra is on stage,” says Streshinsky. The lack of a set will be offset by characters in costume and stage direction that allows them to interact with each other. Will Tosca get to stab Scarpia? “She most certainly does!” says Streshinsky.

The dramatic finale, when Tosca discovers that Scarpia has betrayed her and — spoiler alert! — leaps to her death from the Castel Sant’ Angelo, will not be shortchanged. Streshinsky suggests we “imagine that the orchestra is arrayed on the steps of the roof of the Castel Sant’ Angelo!” Those steps are certain to come in useful.

The title character of Floria Tosca, a celebrated soprano both in the original play by Sardou and the opera by Puccini, will be portrayed by Alexandra Loutsion, herself a celebrated soprano who is making her Sacramento debut. The role of Tosca is treasured by Loutsion. “Tosca is the perfect opera,” she says. “The text reads like a play, and the score offers so many colors and emotions. The performers get to do so much!”

Tenor Marco Cammarota has the task of bringing to life the character of Mario Cavaradossi, a painter who is Tosca’s lover. He is not bothered by the absence of scenery in the SPO production: “There’s less to look at and fewer distractions. We are hyper-focused on the performance.”

In his capital city debut, Cammarota is returning to a role he particularly loves. “Tosca is paced beautifully,” he says. “Its characters are three-dimensional individuals that people can relate to—the singer, the painter, the power-hungry cop. It has violence and humor equal to any of the stuff you see on Netflix.”

When asked what Tosca means to him, Cammarota said, “To me, it’s like coming home. It just feels kind of right.”

“I completely agree with that,” says Loutsion, describing how the roles in the opera have depth and breadth. “In the source material, the original play, Tosca is an orphan raised by nuns. She’s not just an opera diva; she’s a strong and confident survivor. She has many aspects. I try to show her jealous streak, her humorous and comedic nature. Men love her for a reason.”

Loutsion acknowledges the problem with the show-stopping aria “Vissi d’arte,” which occurs as the drama approaches the violent climax of Act II. “The vocalization doesn’t match the rest of the Tosca role, which is dramatic and confident. But suddenly it’s ‘Let’s be Mimi for two minutes!’” she says, alluding to the timid seamstress from La Bohème. In Loutsion’s interpretation, the aria is the moment in which Tosca reveals her real self, distinct from her performer persona, and this shocking honesty catches her assailant by surprise, whose passion was aroused more by the diva and less by the woman portraying her. Thus Tosca has its own #MeToo moment embedded in an opera from 1896.

The most experienced member of the cast is bass-baritone Philip Skinner, who portrays the rapacious Baron Scarpia, the corrupt chief of police who is besotted with Tosca and will do anything to have her. SF Classical Voice praised his appearance with West Bay Opera, citing the crowd-pleasing impact of “the towering, hulking, delightfully pure evil Scarpia with the mighty, sustained voice of Philip Skinner.”

For patrons needing to unwind after the melodrama of Tosca, the Rogue Music Project is sponsoring an “After the Jump” event at Downtown & Vine, a boutique bar on K Street, a short walk from the Community Center Theater. Everyone is invited.

For event information:

May 5, Tosca, Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera, www.sacphilopera.org, 916-808-2000

“After the Jump” after-party with the Rogue Music Project, Downtown & Vine, 1200 K Street, #8, Sacramento, www.facebook.com/whatisRMP/