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"Reasons to hear Tosca at the Paramount"

By Daniel Kleinknecht

Artistic Director, Cedar Rapids Opera

In this article I’ll present reasons that readers should attend Cedar Rapids Opera’s production of Puccini’s opera, Tosca.

Tosca is probably one of the most thrilling operas in the inherited repertoire. And conducting it is a singular joy in my life. This fall I went to Dorney Park, an amusement park just outside of Allentown, PA. I rode each of the most frightening rides -- the Dominator, Hydra, Steele Force, Talon -- and others. What I felt while suspended in mid-air on the roller coasters is close to the thrill of the second act of Tosca. The opera’s emotional changes happen on a dime and teeter back and forth to create unforgettable climaxes. Experiencing Tosca in a seat at the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids can give operagoers that same sense of anticipation and excitement that I felt on the Dorney Park rides.

The subject matter of the opera might make you think it takes place in the present day, rather than Italy in 1800. Tosca’s themes -- love, suicide, corrupt religion, and the execution of political opponents--are right at the heart of our politics today. Great art like Tosca is timeless; it gives us messages of history and perspective. Like a mirror to society, Tosca boldly portrays the human condition.

There are several singers with Iowa City connections in this production. Chaz’men Williams-Ali, who spent several years here at the University of Iowa studying voice with Stephen Swanson and coaching with Shari Rhodes, sings the tenor lead role, Cavaradossi. Chaz’ just moved back to the USA after singing and living in Hamburg, Germany. His dynamic singing and dramatic character portrayals have taken him to the stages of the Metropolitan Opera, the Kennedy Center (Don Jose in Carmen), Washington National (as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly), English National Opera, and the Dutch National Opera. His singing in this Tosca is absolutely thrilling.

Baritone Ethan Elsbernd is a very gifted junior music major at The University of Iowa. He sings the role of the Sacristan. He also studies singing with Stephen Swanson. I have worked with Ethan for several years with CRO and he is singing extremely well for such a young baritone.

Tosca demands big numbers of people to be onstage and in the pit. There will be 26 in the children’s chorus, 50 in the adult and Young Artist chorus, and 9 lead characters. Orchestra Iowa will be playing in the pit. With a backstage crew of upwards of 20 people, opera goers will experience one of the most expensive and personnel-heavy artistic efforts in all of Iowa.

In Tosca I think about the importance of 3: three acts, one unforgettable scene in each act, and 3 principal characters.

Tosca, a famous opera singer

Cavaradossi, a painter in love with Tosca

Scarpia, the corrupt Chief of the Roman police

If you’ve seen the film “Napoleon,” directed and produced by Ridley Scott and written by David Scarpia, you’re already familiar with the state of affairs in Europe around 1800, the time in which Tosca is set. In the film, the battle of Marengo isn’t one of the battles enacted, but it did occur in June of 1800. The Italians lost that battle to the French. This battle is announced in act 2 of Tosca and provokes Cavaradossi’s stirring musical phrase, “Vittoria!”

Tosca will be performed January 19 at 7:30PM and Sunday, January 21 at 2PM. Plan to arrive an hour before the curtain on Friday or Sunday to hear Dr. Anna Barker’s pre-opera talk in the Discovery Lounge. Her talk and subject, "Tosca’s Rome, the Opera in Historical Perspective, will be a great start to your opera event.


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