Originally created 03/14/03

'Tosca' is a favorite piece for many opera performers



Torture, betrayal, suicide and multiple murders - it's just another night at the opera.

Thursday, the Augusta Opera opens its production of Giacomo Puccini's classic verismo, or "slice of life," opera Tosca. It is the story of a jealous young singer, the man who loves her and the political machinations - and copious bloodshed - that stand in the way of their eternal happiness. Tosca has remained popular because of its melodramatic subject matter and it's soaring Puccini score.

"The way that emotional melodrama is underscored by the music, I think, is the reason it has remained popular," said Sheila Smith, who plays the titular Tosca. "It touches people in a way that other pieces, far more melodramatic pieces, can't. It somehow grabs the majority."

For years, American Tosca productions were often sung in English instead of the original Italian. The Augusta production has chosen to supertitle - or project the translated libretto - while the cast sings in Italian.

"It's important to remember that the libretto, the words, were written first and then the music was applied," Ms. Smith said. "So when you extract those words and translate them to another language, you are trying to make the structure of the piece malleable, flexible, when in fact it is not."

Often cited as a musician's favorite, Tosca features show-stopping sections for its principal parts. Gary Simpson, who plays the hiss-worthy villain Scarpia, said singing a Tosca role is never just another day at the opera office.

"It certainly never feels that way," he said. "It's just such an expansive piece. Even when you're just practicing with a piano, it offers a certain amount of satisfaction."

For that reason, Tosca often ranks high on many performers' to-do list. "I'm personally finding it to be a great thrill," said Benjamin Warschawski, who sings the role of the romantic lead Mario. "It's always been this great dream, this goal of mine to sing Mario. Because of that, this has been a great joy."

ON STAGE

WHAT: Tosca, presented by the Augusta Opera

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and March 22, 3 p.m. March 23

WHERE: The Imperial Theatre, 745 Broad St.

ADMISSION: $12-$40. Call 826-4710.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.