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San Diego Opera's 'Tosca'

February 16, 2016 3:17 a.m.

San Diego Opera’s production of Tosca is winning high praise. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando speaks with director Lesley Koenig [ko-nig] who decided on an opera career at the ripe age of eight.

Related Story: San Diego Opera Presents 'Tosca'

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

San Diego Opera’s production of Tosca is winning high praise. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando speaks with director Lesley Koenig [ko-nig] who decided on an opera career at the ripe age of eight.

Lesley Koenig challenges expectations about opera both in terms of what she puts on the stage and how she talks about it. Just listen to her describe what happened with a previous Tosca and its famous suicide.

LESLEY KOENIG: I restaged it just once. Luciano Pavarotti and (?) and it was quite hilarious because they couldn’t kiss because they couldn’t really reach each other because they were both kind of big and then at the very end she is supposed to jump and instead of jumping she hiked up her skirt and walked off stage left. And the audience went into an uproar it was so hilarious I did cry a little bit.

Koenig has lived and breathed opera since she was a child.

LESLEY KOENIG: When I was little maybe 6 --I decided to be an opera director when I was 8 -- I used to sit on the steps where no one in my family could see me and act out the agony of the thing not even knowing what it was about but I was acting it out when I was six and here I get to stage it.

Puccini’s opera sometimes gets dismissed as a melodrama about a fiery black-eyed diva, her idealistic lover, and a sadistic police chief.

LESLEY KOENIG: The challenge is not to fall into the clichés of melodrama, with someone throwing his forearm on his forehead and big eyes.

Koenig didn’t want Tosca to be about a scary woman with a knife but rather to be about people dealing with real emotions.

LESLEY KOENIG: I want all my pieces to be filled with a kind of wondrous humanity and no clichés.

But that humanity can be on a larger than life scale, so that the villainous Scarpia can enter like Darth Vader and provide a character you love to hate. But scale presents a different kind of challenge for production carpenter and technical director John David Peters.

JOHN DAVID PETERS: Tosca is one of those very challenging operas because you have to have a really big elegant set for the first act, and then you get into the second act and you have a murder on stage where one principle stabs the other so you have to make sure that trick doesn’t go awry.

Okay, spoiler alert – we are going to talk about who dies but this opera’s been around for more than a century so revealing what happens is a bit like telling you Romeo and Juliet die at the end of Shakespeare’s play. Figuring prominently in the opera’s multiple deaths is Tosca herself.

ALEXIA VOULGARIDOU: She’s a very passionate woman.

Soprano Alexia Alexia Voulgaridou plays Tosca.

ALEXIA VOULGARIDOU: In a few moments she loose everything… she loose the man she loves, she kills somebody, and she kill herself.

Tosca’s fatal leap from the parapet is just one of the challenges of the role.

ALEXIA VOULGARIDOU: You must do it really with a jump you cannot be there and oh, you must do it with impulse so that it can be true and that the public [gasps] they stay with you.

JOHN DAVID PETERS: She’s one of the least timid Toscas that we have ever had.

Again John David Peters.

JOHN DAVID PETERS: We have to come up with a jump pad for her to leap into and we have to gain the confidence of the singer to get her to believe it’s an appropriate jump pad and we won’t NOT be there when she makes the leap.

ALEXIA VOULGARIDOU: It takes courage to do it but it works fantastic

Koenig says Tosca is a good starter opera because the narrative is very direct and the emotions are clear and vivid.

LESLEY KOENIG: I really think this is one of the pieces that is so compact there’s not a lot of subplots going on there’s a little political intrigue going on underneath but it’s a piece that you could really see it without surtitles and you’d really understand everything that’s going on the whole time.

And it helps to have a director with a clear vision and an ability to strip the opera down to very human emotions driving the story to its tragic end.

Beth Accomando, KPBS News.

There are three more performances of San Diego Opera’s Tosca this Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday at the Civic Theatre. You can hear the opera Saturday night at 8pm on KPBS FM.