Tosca Says “Welcome to Opera”
In the rich music, bold scenes and riveting action of Tosca, composer Giacomo Puccini plays on the appealing conceit of an operatic diva singing the role of...an operatic diva. Even 117 years after its premiere in Rome the potent, iconic work is still easy to love, says AZO president and general director Joseph Specter. “When people think, ‘I want to take someone very special to the opera for the first time,’ Tosca says ‘Welcome to opera.’”
Tara Faircloth, who previously directed Arizona Opera’s Carmen, Don Giovanni, Eugene Onegin and H.M.S. Pinafore, returns with conductor Steven White -- “an old friend,” she says; “we did Onegin and Giovanni together” -- for Tosca (Phoenix: Nov. 17-19).
“What’s not to love?” Faircloth asks with a grin. “Non-stop good tunes and loads of drama, and it’s not very long -- a perfect evening.”
Gorgeous, traditional costumes and staging make for “a perfect first opera for adults especially,” says Faircloth. “I think the characters are interesting because all of them are quite strong,” she adds. “It’s not like destiny’s sweeping them along -- they’re really making choices.”
Faircloth describes the battle of wills between passionate singer Floria Tosca and the decadent, corrupt police chief Scarpia -- who is characterized by three heavy chords throughout the opera -- as “riveting and dramatic and amazing.” She continues, “We all have parts of ourselves that are dark, and desires that we may not be proud of... It’s a fascinating study in how being surrounded by riches or power or elegance does not refine the soul.”
The opera’s story features Scarpia’s obsessive pursuit of Tosca, the flight of a political fugitive hidden by the diva’s lover Cavaradossi, misplaced jealousy, a bitter bargain for Cavaradossi’s freedom, and a breathtaking climax.
“All of these characters are so realistically depicted...they’re human beings,” Faircloth elaborates. “Like Scarpia -- he has a lot of power in his hands, so this is about how power corrupts.” She adds, "Puccini is a master characterizer.”
Faircloth runs a private coaching studio in Houston, Texas, where she works with singers from the Houston Grand Opera Studio and Rice University in addition to her full schedule directing international productions. “I start with the music and then I develop my ideas,” she explains. “I have to meet my singers to see what they offer me. I’m very interested in how they think about the characters [they play], but more importantly what their voices and their bodies tell me how they think about the characters.” Faircloth adds, “We learn so much about them just in how they handle a knife or how they cut a chicken.”
“If you’re looking for a classic, amazing night at the theater I think this is it,” she declares with a smile. In fact, says Faircloth, “This is the kind of show I think my dad -- a middle-class retired schoolteacher -- would like.” She laughs and drawls, “I can hear him say, ‘Now, that Tosca...that was a fun time.’”