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,
, 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
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
, 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


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