Annapolis Opera begins its season with Puccini; 'Tosca': Local company's pipeline pumps talented performances into an over-the-top classic.; ARUNDEL LIVE


Most of the great tragic operas are potboilers par excellence. But even among the hyperemotional extravaganzas of the musical stage, Puccini's "Tosca" is more melodramatic than most.

Taken from Victorien Sardou's play of the same name, which was written for no less a scene-stealer than Sarah Bernhardt, the plot of "Tosca" is one campy cliche after another.

Floria Tosca, the tempestuous singer, "lives for art and lives for love."

Her lover, Cavaradossi, is a hot- blooded anti-monarchist consumed by love and ready to put it all on the line for his republican beliefs.

Enter Scarpia, the villainous police chief out to kill the hero and have Tosca for himself.

Love. Torture. Murder. An escape plot gone awry. A sad death, followed by one of opera's most celebrated suicides.

Holding the passions together -- raising them all to the level of high art -- are some of the juiciest, most celestial arias composed for the human voice.

Tosca's grand autobiographical statement "Vissi d'arte" ("I have lived for art"), Cavaradossi's "E lucevan le stelle," and the great "Te Deum" scene that concludes Act I will all ring out at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts at 8 p.m. tomorrow and 3 p.m. Sunday when the Annapolis Opera begins its 1999-2000 season with a production of Puccini's immortal work.

The local company's talent pipeline continues to supply us with talented young voices.

Playing Tosca will be soprano Allison Charney, who sang the title role in Puccini's "Madame Butterfly" with great success in 1996. A national finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Competition in 1993, she has sung major roles with the opera companies of Memphis, Tenn.,Tampa, Fla., Syracuse, N.Y., and Atlanta.

Cavaradossi's arias will be handled by tenor Peter Riberi, whose Metropolitan debut in Verdi's "Etiffelio" occurred on PBS's nationally broadcast "Live from Lincoln Center" series alongside Placido Domingo.

One of the country's up-and-coming tenors, Riberi has sung major roles with the Houston Grand Opera, and the principal companies of Nashville, Tenn., Santa Fe, N.M., and Kansas City, Mo.

Bass-baritone Sun Yu, who was trained at the Beijing Central Conservatory, will appear as the caddish Scarpia.

With appearances at the New York City and Washington Operas under his belt, Yu is on the way toward establishing himself as one of the country's finest young bass-baritones.

It's easy to chuckle at "Tosca's" over-the-top plot and wind up agreeing with Ernest Krenek that "perhaps the theater of the absurd did not have to be invented, for opera as such seemed absurd enough."

But the moment the singing starts, the overwhelming impulse is to applaud divine wisdom because, as Puccini himself recounted, God touched the composer "with his little finger and said, 'Write for the theater, only for the theater.' "

Tickets: 410-267-8135.

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