Corrections or additions?
This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the October 25,
2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
What goes around comes around, they say. For Boheme
Opera Company it comes around as a mirror image. For its first season
in 1989 the company scheduled Verdi’s "La Traviata" and
"Tosca." For this, its 12th season, the company has scheduled
"Tosca" and "Traviata." In a telephone interview from
Boheme’s Trenton office, managing director Sandra Pucciatti describes
the pair of works as "tried and true blockbuster operas that are
also good for new operagoers."
"Tosca" will be performed at Trenton’s War Memorial on Friday,
October 27, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, October 29, at 3 p.m. "It’s
very explosive," Pucciatti says. "It ushered in the 20th
and it wears well." Artistic director Joseph Pucciatti, Sandra’s
husband, conducts the performances and gives pre-concert talks. Laura
Alley directs. Surtitles make the text accessible in English.
this season, "La Traviata" is on deck for April, 2001.
Both works rank among the five operas most frequently performed by
professional companies in the United States, according to
Opera America. Tosca is a multiple tragedy, with all three principal
characters dead by the end of the piece. All three contribute to the
unfortunate end of the drama: the jealous Tosca by her intense
of her lover, the artist Cavaradossi; the trusting Cavaradossi by
his naive political liberalism; and the malevolent Police Chief
by his provocative evil. Allison Charney, who appeared in Boheme’s
"Rigoletto," sings Tosca, one of her favorite roles. Jon
as Cavaradossi, and Daniel Sutin, as Scarpia, appear with Boheme for
the first time.
Tosca is the fourth Boheme presentation to take place at Trenton’s
War Memorial since its reopening in 1998 (U.S. 1 December 9, 1998).
Restored to its original, opulent 1932 look, and equipped with updated
technical facilities, the War Memorial provides an elegant setting
for up-to-date performances. During the four-year hiatus when the
site was closed for renovation, Boheme found its temporarary home
at the auditorium of Trenton’s Villa Victoria Academy.
Pucciatti’s enthusiasm about Boheme’s return to its War Memorial home
is vigorous. "What it means for us," she says, "is
visibility and a state-of-the-art internal structure for producing
opera. It’s a thousand times easier. It’s by far the best facility
we’ve used. The amenities for cast and professional designers are
excellent. Its location in the capitol complex can be a marketing
plus. We can bring in new audiences with a gem-like the War Memorial,
especially those who have never been to Trenton, and have never been
to the opera."
The numbers bear out Pucciatti’s good feelings. With
double the marketing effort, Boheme has almost tripled its
base over last year. "Before this season," Pucciatti says,
"we never had more than 375 subscriptions, though we sold a huge
number of single tickets."
Pucciatti considers surtitles a very important marketing tool.
she says, "our last show before the War Memorial closed, was the
first time we used surtitles. It was our first French opera and we
thought we needed them. Previously, we had done only Italian opera,
and performed `Fledermaus’ in English. Then the audience skyrocketed.
We decided then that we’d use surtitles for `Barber of Seville,’ our
next show. I thought, `Let them get all the jokes.’"
Pucciatti, 48, grew up in a family with a musical father and an
mother. Her brother, Jerry Milstein, a computer analyst, plays oboe
in the Boheme orchestra. "Both of my parents were always
she says. Her mother died three years ago. Her father, Harvey
a retired executive in sales and marketing, is active at Boheme Opera
Company, serving as interim development director. Father Milstein
played first trumpet in the U.S. Army band. Violin and piano are also
his instruments. His daughter Sandra started piano at four. "We
had an old spinet," she says, "and my dad fooled around at
it. I imitated what he was doing. One day I played something and my
mom thought it was my dad playing. They decided it was time for me
to start lessons."
Pucciatti began her piano studies at the Trenton Conservatory of Music
with Isabelle Kaminsky. A graduate of Pennsbury High School, she
summa cum laude from Temple University. Additional work followed at
Trenton State, now the College of New Jersey, and, privately, with
Karl Ulrich Schnabel. "My mom was not a typical stage mom;"
she says, "she stayed in the background." Pucciatti’s piano
performance now is limited primarily to private events, though in
1995 she gave a benefit concert for the Boheme Opera Guild.
Pucciatti tracks here interest in opera to her early childhood.
been listening to opera since I was four years old," she says.
"It was available at home when I was growing up. I always had
an affinity for it." During her studies at Temple and Trenton
State she acted as accompanist for opera performances. But her
went beyond providing the keyboard backup while others sang. "I
had purchased scores and wanted to learn about operatic styles. I
went to an opera coach to learn to be a coach." However, her
of languages was not at as high a level as her passion for opera,
and in 1979, when her interest in opera was became intense, a career
as a coach was out of the question.
At about that time Pucciatti had just met the man who would become
her husband. His interest in opera started when he was in college.
"He talked about `Turandot,’" his wife remembers. "He
was interested in conducting." A music teacher in the Trenton
public schools, Joseph Pucciatti has gone on to direct the Greater
Trenton Choral Society and the Congregation Beth Chaim Choir. He has
been a guest conductor of the Greater Trenton Symphony Orchestra.
The couple has one daughter, Rachel Shabana, almost 14.
About two years after they met Sandra and Joseph
began getting together informally with opera-loving friends to pursue
their common interest. They took the name for their gatherings from
the Boheme Club, which the composer Puccini formed in Italy in the
1890s. The Trenton organization became a formal entity in 1986.
Boheme’s first public performance was a dinner opera event at Roman
Hall, a catering establishment in Trenton’s Chambersburg. Their first
production was Mascagni’s "Cavalleria Rusticana." Their second
was Leoncavallo’s "Pagliacci." The one-act operas were
separately, rather than in their usual mounting as a double bill.
In 1989 Boheme reached a turning point, making its debut as a full
production company at Trenton’s Central High School with "La
Another turning point came in 1994, when Boheme joined Opera America
as a professional member. "We were able to meet their criteria
about budget, casting, and board of directors," Pucciatti says.
"That gave us access to a host of Opera America services —
sets and costumes, co-productions, and information about presenting
opera and about board development. Boheme has never had difficulty
with production and internal development. But we needed help with
financing and board development. Opera America helped. When you start
as a grass roots traditional company, you’ve got a long way to
Looking back on Boheme Opera’s evolution, Pucciatti says, "Our
productions and our casting keep rising in quality. We’re developing
a higher level of artistry. We’re attracting new and better quality
singers. The comprimarios, the singers in supporting roles, must rise
to the occasion to match the principal singers. This is the third
time that we’re doing `Tosca’ and it’s the best one."
"Boheme is developing a reputation as a stepping-stone
Pucciatti says. "It started with our 1997 Butterfly, Paula
(U.S. 1, April 23, 1997). Six weeks after she left us Paris Opera
engaged her. She was a sensation there. Then she went to [London’s]
Covent Garden. Now she is the cover for Catherine Malfitano at the
Met. When singers try a new role at Boheme it can become a stepping
stone. In 1995 Mark Delavan played Scarpia at Boheme. He went on to
leading roles at the New York City Opera, and played Scarpia in their
telecast. In January he will play Amonasro opposite Pavarotti in Aida
at the Met."
The staff of Boheme Opera has grown to include three part-time
in addition to full-time managing director Pucciatti. In addition
there is a volunteer base of about 300 people in the Boheme Opera
Guild, led by president Mary Nicola Ferri.
Asked to come up with a job description for her position, Pucciatti
laughs and blurts out, "Omigod! My title is managing director
— You can imagine what a manager does in an opera company. You
have to manage everything from production details like contracting
and logistics and scheduling to troubleshooting, office
and overseeing the box-office."
"You’re not looking to become famous," she says. "It’s
the medium that’s important. When we started the company, it was not
my ambition to be a managing director. The beast of opera production
is the most comprehensive form of theater. It has more details than
any other theater. The scheduling of all the different elements is
difficult — making everything come together." With Sandra
Pucciatti as its managing director, Boheme Opera is bringing all those
elements together. What goes around comes around. And for Boheme Opera
it happens at an increasingly high level.
— Elaine Strauss
609-581-7200. Sung in Italian with English supertitles. Pre-curtain
talks one hour before the performance. $20 to $50. Friday, October
27, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, October 29, at 3 p.m.
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