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Pacific Symphony's production of Puccini's "Tosca" offers a thrill-ride full of grand tragedy and knock-out voices as opera-vocal initiative continues

January 23, 2013

Opera’s most tempestuous tale of love, deception and political intrigue—“Tosca”—comes alive as Pacific Symphony performs Puccini’s passionate and beautiful music in its full glory for the orchestra’s second semi-staged opera production. The new opera-vocal initiative “Symphonic Voices” launched last season with three sold-old nights of “La Bohème,” in an effort to bring opera back to Orange County following the loss of Opera Pacific. Inspired by Music Director Carl St.Clair’s successful career as an opera conductor in Europe, the Symphony once again takes the music out of the pit and onto the stage to reveal the composer’s brilliant orchestration, which paints the scenery and emotion behind the tragic tale. The production stars a cast of world-renowned opera singers, Pacific Chorale and the Southern California Children’s Chorus.

Set amid the chaos of revolution during the Napoleonic wars of 1800 Rome, the story follows a glamorous singer, a victim of her own jealousy, in a willful battle with the cunning chief of police to save her lover, a painter, who is captured and sentenced to death for hiding his rebel friend. Sung in Italian with English supertitles, “Tosca” takes place Thursday, Feb. 21; Saturday, Feb. 23; and Tuesday Feb. 26, at 8 p.m. in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall; a preview talk with Alan Chapman begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25-$112; for more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 876-2385 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.

“As with ‘La Bohéme,’ I wanted to choose an opera that has an amazing orchestral score, and ‘Tosca’ certainly has that,” says Maestro St.Clair. “The drama and absolute tragedy of the opera are so well depicted and well illustrated in the orchestral score that not only do you have incredible arias, duets, ensembles and choral scenes; but you also have an orchestra right on stage bringing it all alive. Puccini’s score captures the drama, the seriousness and the various content of this wonderful opera.”

Directed by Eric Einhorn, who has been praised by The Austin Chronicle as “a rising star in the opera world” and by Opera News for his “keen eye for detail and character insight,” this semi-staged production includes acting, staging and suggested props and costumes. Lighting designer Kathy Pryzgoda, scenic designer Julia Noulin-Mérat and digital media designer Paul DiPierro transform the concert hall in a unique way for this production. The set design includes a 90-foot screen with projected scenes of the three acts: the church of Sant’ Andrea della Valle, the Farnese Palace and the prison Castel Sant’ Angelo.

The magnificent cast of voices includes soprano Claire Rutter as Tosca, tenor Brian Jagde as Cavaradossi, baritone George Gagnidze as Scarpia, bass-baritone Ryan Kuster as Angelotti, tenor Dennis Petersen as Spoletta, bass Michael Gallup as Sacristan, baritone Ralph Cato as Sciarrone and baritone Emmanuel Miranda as the Jailer. (For the Symphony’s production, the diva Tosca wears a necklace and earrings set by BVLGARI valued at $1,000,000, with sapphires, peridots, milky quartzes and round brilliant cut diamonds set in white gold.)

“Having conducted ‘Tosca’ numerous times in the opera house, I really look forward to sharing this experience with our audience in a semi-staged concert version,” continues St.Clair. “With our production, the orchestra is right on the stage and the singers are right in front of the orchestra near the audience, so that they can get the full impact of these wonderful musical and dramatic moments that Puccini has composed.

“In the finale of Act I, we have this Te Deum scene with this incredible chorus and bells and the absolute power of that musical moment,” St.Clair continues. “We have the sorrowful singing of Cavaradossi in Act III just before Tosca leaps to her death or the evil vengeance of Scarpia in Act II. All of this will come to life right at the foot lights. This is something that I really enjoy and look forward to as we present our concert version of ‘Tosca.’”

Born in South Shields, UK, soprano Rutter has received a long series of outstanding reviews from international press for her performances of “Lucrezia Borgia” for English National Opera, for which she has also performed Donna Anna in “Don Giovanni,” the title roles in “Tosca” and “Aida,” Amelia in “Un Ballo in Maschera,” Elvira in “Ernani,” Gilda in “Rigoletto” and Violetta in “La Traviata.” She was nominated for the Maria Callas Award for her U.S. debut as Fiordiligi in “Cosi fan Tutte” with Dallas Opera.

“Claire Rutter overcomes it all with a performance of memorable vocal splendour and subtle acting, and her top Cs soar out with thrilling ease,” read a review from Bloomberg for her performance of Tosca at the English National Opera.

This season American tenor Brian Jagde made his debut with the Santa Fe Opera and was featured at the San Francisco Opera as Cavaradossi in “Tosca,” a role he also sings at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. A graduate of the Adler Fellowship at San Francisco Opera, Jagde’s mainstage appearances have included Joe in “La Fanciulla del West,” Janek in “The Makropulos Case” and Vitellozzo in “Lucrezia Borgia.”

“In Act III, as Cavaradossi looked up at the sky prior to singing ‘E lucevan le stelle,’ the sight of a tall, handsome, doomed romantic tenor in awe of the approaching dawn was startling in its honesty and emotional simplicity. Brian Jagde’s robust tenor marks him as a talent to watch in the future.”—Huffington Post Singing with the most prestigious international opera companies including the Metropolitan Opera, Teatro alla Scala, Opéra de Paris, Opernhaus Zürich and the Bolshoi Theatre, Georgian baritone Gagnidze has sung the principal roles of the Italian operatic repertoire including Alfio in “Cavalleria Rusticana” and Tonio in “Pagliacci”; iconic Verdi roles such as Renato in “Un Ballo in Maschera”; and extends his artistic versatility in German and Russian parts such as Pizarro in “Fidelio” and Jochanaan in “Salome.”

“The Georgian baritone George Gagnidze was an exceptionally menacing Scarpia, singing with robust, earthy power and seductive lyricism when the villain turns on the charm.” —The New York Times

Bass-baritone Kuster has been gaining vast attention on the West Coast for his recent accolades at San Francisco Opera, where he is an Alder Fellow. The Classical Voice said of his performance as Masetto in “Don Giovanni”: “Handsome Ryan Kuster sang beautifully, and acted so convincingly it’s hard to believe he’s an Adler Fellow.”

Tenor Petersen made his debut with Seattle Opera in both “Das Rheingold” and “Siegfried,” he toured Japan singing the School Master in “Vixen” at the Saito Kinen Festival and recently performed in the premiere of “Dead Man Walking” at New York City Opera and in “Madama Butterly” for San Francisco Opera.

Bass-baritone Michael Gallup has earned praise for more than two decades as a regular guest of opera companies across the United States, having appeared in 41 productions with Los Angeles Opera including “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Der Rosenkavalier,” “Tosca” and “Cosí fan Tutti.”

The mastermind behind the effort to bring opera back to Orange County is St.Clair, whose stellar reputation as an opera conductor in Europe set the ideal stage for such a venture. St.Clair concluded his tenure as general music director and chief conductor of the German National Theater and Staatskapelle (GNTS) in Weimar, Germany, where he led Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” to great critical acclaim. St.Clair was the first non–European to hold his position at the GNTS; the role also gave him the distinction of leading one of the newest orchestras in America and one of the oldest in Europe. He’s also served as general music director of Berlin’s Komische Oper.