DEFINING OPERA: “What on earth,” asks the art historian Sir Kenneth Clark, “has given opera its prestige in Western civilization — a prestige that has outlasted so many different fashions and ways of thought? Why are people prepared to sit silently for three hours listening to a performance of which they do not understand a word and of which they very seldom know the plot? Why do quite small towns all over Germany and Italy still devote a large portion of their budgets to this ‘irrational entertainment’? “Partly, of course,” Clark tells us, “because it is a display of skill, like a football match. But chiefly, I think, because it is irrational. ‘What is too silly to be said may be sung’ — well, yes; but what is too subtle, or too deeply felt, or too revealing or too mysterious — these things can also be sung and only be sung.” Clark goes on to use Mozart’s Don Giovanni as an example of this, but his words describe the works of Giacomo Puccini uncannily well, too. Puccini hangs his heart so far out on his sleeve that he sometimes veers perilously close to the border of Camp. His operas are emotional storms, hallucinogenic in their intensity and baroque in their extravagant passions. I agree with Lord Clark about Don Giovanni — that it is a cultural earthquake comparable to, and coeval with, the French Revolution — but for most music lovers, Puccini defines opera. Never have we been so rapturously swept off our feet. “His operas may not engage us on as many different levels as do those of Mozart, Wagner, Verdi, or Strauss,” reads the Concise Grove’s Dictionary, “but on his own most characteristic level, where erotic passion, sensuality, tenderness, pathos, and despair meet and fuse, he was an unrivalled master.” As everyone must know by now, Opera Santa Barbara has reformatted its season into a concentrated festival of performances. This being the first year of the new regime, as it were, what could be more appropriate than to begin with a Puccini Festival? During the next two weekends (the opening gala having taken place last Saturday), OSB will present six performances of Puccini operas: one full-length, Tosca, and two one-acts, Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi, performed as a double bill. Opera Santa Barbara’s Artistic Director Valéry Ryvkin will conduct every show. Tosca is directed by James Marvel, and stars Amy Johnson (Floria Tosca), Michael Hayes (Mario Cavaradossi), and Todd Thomas (Baron Scarpia). Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi, performed together, are the second and third operas of a trilogy Il trittico, which follows the model of the Parisian Grand Guignol — a horrific episode, a sentimental tragedy, and a comedy or farce. (The first, Il tabarro, is the least popular, and seldom produced.) Linda Brovsky will direct both. Suor Angelica will star Oksana Krovytska, Victoria Hart, Tihana Herceg, and Sara Campbell; Gianni Schicchi features Jessica Rivera, Harold Gray Meers, David Small, and Cindy Sadler.Tosca will play Friday, February 24, Sunday, February 26, and Saturday, March 4. Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi will be performed Saturday, February 25, Friday, March 3, and Sunday, March 5. All performances will be in the Lobero Theatre. The operas will be sung in Italian, with English super-titles. For tickets and show times, call the Lobero box office at 963-0761. For tickets, show times, and information about Opera Santa Barbara, call 898-3890, or go to its Web site at operasb.com.
Originally published 1:11 p.m., February 23, 2006
Updated 9:37 a.m., February 24, 2006
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