by Jeffrey Stundel
On April 29 and May 1, Boheme Opera NJ will christen its new home at The College of New Jersey’s Center for the Arts with performances of Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca.” Grand opera on the Kendall Hall main stage is the start of another exciting chapter in the company’s long and storied history that began in 1982 with an unassuming outdoor production of “I Pagliacci.”
The new relationship with the Center for the Arts is a natural fit for Boheme Opera NJ, as both are focused on bringing the arts home to New Jersey through programming and outreach. Coincidentally, it seems that “coming home” and “reunions” are central themes this year for the company and the Center. “Tosca” will not only be one of the centerpieces of The College of New Jersey’s Alumni Reunion Weekend, but will mark the return of members of the Boheme Opera NJ family.
Boheme Opera NJ’s goal of making world-class opera available — and accessible — to everyone applies to both audiences and to performers seeking to establish their careers. In the latter sense, this production of “Tosca” is a homecoming for Metropolitan Opera baritone Daniel Sutin reprising his role as Baron Scarpia, in which he premiered with Boheme Opera NJ in a 2000 performance of the opera. Since then, Mr. Sutin has gone on to a successful operatic career, making his Royal Opera House Covent Garden debut in 2009.
Mr. Sutin is but one success among many during the Boheme Opera NJ’s twenty — two main stage seasons of performances and debuts. Among those who have used the company as an entre to operatic careers is bass-baritone Edward Bogusz, who marks a unique milestone with “Tosca”: in all four of Boheme Opera NJ’s productions of the opera, Mr. Bogusz has appeared in the role of Sacristan.
Of course, it is opera itself that has made these careers and happy reunions possible.
A staging of “Tosca” is prominently featured in a pivotal moment in the last James Bond movie “Quantum of Solace,” in which 007 uncovers some of the central players in an international ecological crime scheme. During the scene, one character says to his companion, “I guess ‘Tosca’ isn’t for everyone.” The juxtaposition was not accidental, as central themes of both the Bond movie — and its predecessor — and the opera are the same: love and betrayal.
Interesting, isn’t it: thematic similarities between a film and culture icon, and a classic opera? Think about that for a moment: the same qualities that make James Bond possible — and popular — also do the same for opera. We see movies for many reasons: we like the actors and actresses, are interested in the story, follow the genre, etc. At the root, though, we are drawn by one constant: a central theme or themes. Love, hate, war, betrayal, lust. The list could go on for a paragraph or two.
But right there you have the core of “Tosca” — a man and woman in love, set against the backdrop of war, both betrayed by another driven by a lust for sex and power.
These themes go beyond the language or time in which they were incorporated into “Tosca” — or any opera. Translate it into English, put your favorite screen stars in the roles and watch it with hot buttered popcorn and beverage of your choice at a 7:35 p.m. showing, and “Tosca” would be more than enough to satisfy your hunger for action, romance and intrigue.
You may not be able to see it tonight at your local cinema — but you can (without the popcorn and soda) at Kendall Hall on April 29 and May 1. Is your Italian a little rusty? “Tosca” is being offered with English supertitles.
Boheme Opera NJ wants you to see for yourself that “Tosca” — and opera — IS for everyone.
TOSCA. April 29 at 8 p.m. and May 1 at 3 p.m., Kendall Hall on the campus of TCNJ. Directed by Jamibeth Margolis and conducted by Artistic Director Joseph Pucciatti, with the Boheme Opera NJ Orchestra and Chorus, and members of the Passaggio Youth Chorale. Starring soprano Valerie Bernhardt and baritone Daniel Sutin. For tickets and information, visit www.bohemeoperanj.com. For group sales, call 609-581-9551.