Corrections or additions?

This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the October 25,

2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Boheme’s Blockbusters

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

Puccini’s

"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

century

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.

Following

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

record-keeper

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

distrust

of her lover, the artist Cavaradossi; the trusting Cavaradossi by

his naive political liberalism; and the malevolent Police Chief

Scarpia

by his provocative evil. Allison Charney, who appeared in Boheme’s

"Rigoletto," sings Tosca, one of her favorite roles. Jon

Garrison,

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

increased

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

subscription

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.

"`Faust,’"

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

encouraging

mother. Her brother, Jerry Milstein, a computer analyst, plays oboe

in the Boheme orchestra. "Both of my parents were always

there,"

she says. Her mother died three years ago. Her father, Harvey

Milstein,

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

graduated

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.

"I’ve

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

interest

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

command

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

Pucciatti

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

presented

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

Traviata."

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

go."

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

company,"

Pucciatti says. "It started with our 1997 Butterfly, Paula

Delligatti

(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

employees

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

administration,

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

Tosca, Boheme Opera, War Memorial Theater, Trenton,

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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