Jill Gardner | ‘Tosca’ back in HOT lineup
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HOT Tosca

‘Tosca’ back in HOT lineup

Posted by Julie in Hawaii Opera Theatre, News 26 Apr 2013

By Steven Mark / smark@staradvertiser.com     See the original posting here.

“Tosca” is one of the most popular operas in the repertoire, and it’s easy to see why. Puccini’s melodrama features everything from political and sexual intrigue to manipulation, torture, backstabbing (literally) and other assorted mayhem. No wonder a part of it was used in the James Bond film “Quantum of Solace.”

It’s all tied up in a singer named Floria Tosca, a raven-haired, dark-eyed beauty who proclaims — in third person no less, like a star athlete touting his talents — “Tosca’s blood burns with a mad love.”

“She is a very complex, multifaceted, mercurial, chameleonlike character,” said soprano Jill Gardner, who performs the title role in the Hawaii Opera Theatre production that opens today. “But I think at the root of her is an overwhelming motivation to love, to find love in life, to love humanity through her self and her music and her voice, and also to love and be of service to God.

“So although she’s very fiery and temperamental and a very strong woman, I also think these subtler shades of her are as interesting as the more obvious ones.”

Indeed, “Tosca” is not an “opera-within-an-opera” kind of story, nor is it a “behind the scenes” tale. Although she is a diva, “the only time where she’s the diva or the singer in action is in a cantata which happens offstage,” Gardner said. “So all the moments that you experience of Tosca are private and personal ones.”

Set during the Napoleonic invasions of Italy in 1800, the opera tells the story of a singer who gets trapped between her love for political prisoner Mario, portrayed by Tongan native and former pro football player Ta’u Pupu’a, and scheming police captain Scarpia, played by Michael Chioldi. Chioldi returns to HOT after a well-received 2010 performance as Count Almaviva in “Marriage of Figaro.”

Complicating matters is the fact that Tosca’s status as a court favorite puts her in conflict with her lover’s politics. “If she stays with him, she knows within herself that she is going to have to leave the state,” Gardner said. “They are ultimately going to have to run away together … but she never thought that those moments would come at his bidding.”

Scarpia, on the other hand, has his own ideas. He too is a power player in society who has gotten everything that he could want — an 1800s version of a 1-percenter, Chioldi said: “the most powerful man (in Rome), other than the pope.”

The one thing lacking? Conquering Tosca, which Scarpia sets to with an almost gleeful depravity.

LIKE MANY actors, Chioldi prefers to play the bad guy rather than the good, with Scarpia a favorite.

“Evil characters are so much more interesting because they’re so much more complex, from a dramatic point of view as well as a musical point of view.”

In the famous “Te Deum” scene, Scarpia lays out his plan to entrap Tosca and then bend her to his will.

“It’s one of the great operatic moments of all of opera,” he said. “The orchestra’s wailing away, you have a pipe organ, you have chimes and bells, you have a kids chorus, you have the big chorus and then me singing on top of it all.”

Gardner, who is performing Tosca for the sixth time in her career, gets her major solo in “Vissi d’Arte” (“I Live for Art”). It is the only moment of reflection in the opera, which is otherwise through-written with short recitative passages connecting scenes and driving the plot.

“It’s almost for me like a little island of poetry and music,” Garner said.

“She finds herself in this most vulnerable moment that Scarpia has pushed her towards,” Gardner said. “She is truly reaching in her depths and asking God the proverbial question, Why do bad things happen to good people?

“Puccini wrote for the human voice, in my opinion, as no other composer. He understands the real balance that needs to happen between the most beautiful or the most dramatic vocalism with the particular dramatic situation that you find yourself in. He is a master at this.”