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Saturday April 19th 2014

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Last Curtain Call for the Opera


By Jennie McKeon

The Pensacola Opera’s 2013 season is coming to a close. For their last performance, the local opera house is pulling out all the stops with Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca.”

“’Tosca’ is the operatic example of verismo [real life] drama—a tale of passionate love, corruption, seduction, intrigue and murder,” said the opera’s artistic director, Kyle Marrero. “All of this is set with the soaring melodies and orchestration of Puccini. It is the perfect end to our ‘Season with an Edge.’”

The themes, Marrero said, are basically an evening of primetime television.

The melodrama is set in Rome following Floria Tosca, a beautiful opera singer, who must find a way to save her lover, the painter Cavaradossi, who has been arrested and tortured by the jealous Chief of Police, Baron Scarpia. The ending, needless to say, is not a happy one.

“Hey, it’s opera,” Marrero said.

Traveling all the way from Cincinnati to play the part of Tosca is Kara Shay Thompson. Thompson has been singing since she was two-years-old and has been playing opera leading ladies for the past 10 years. She’s looking forward to her Pensacola visit.

“Performing in Pensacola means I get to sing in an amazing theater with people that I love to work with and live in a gorgeous place while singing my favorite role,” she said. “What else do you need? And, I just can’t say no to Kyle.”

Opening night will be Thompson’s 78th performance as Tosca. She hasn’t tired of the role yet.

“It is a shining example of verismo opera—beautiful music married to captivating drama and real characters with whom the audience can identify,” she said.

Thompson hopes the audience will grow to love “Tosca” as much as she does.

“My favorite part of opening night is knowing there are people in the audience who have never seen an opera and that performance will ignite their love of this art form,” she said. “Being their first ‘Tosca’ is an honor and I cherish any moment that I can share my love for opera with the audience.”

After 77 performances, Thompson certainly knows the tragic ending to “Tosca,” but that doesn’t make it any easier to cope with.

“The hardest part about being in a tragic opera is remaining calm on the inside so that the tragedy onstage does not interfere with my ability to connect with my colleagues and the conductor,” she said. “My job is to allow the audience to experience the tragedy without compromising my voice or dramatic choices.”

Playing “Tosca” can be dangerous, but Thompson’s passion makes her oblivious to the physical aspect of the role.

“I have many bruises, scrapes and bumps due to the extreme physical requirements of the role, but within the drama you don’t recognize them,” she said. “It usually surfaces on the flight home when you think, ‘Yikes, why do I have bruises on my arm?’”

The kind of actor that literally throws himself or herself into a role is precisely what Marrero looks for when casting.

“I want believable characters, both verbally and physically,” Marrero said. “The audience must believe these relationships are possible.”

This season finale performance stays in tradition with Pensacola Opera productions by including the artistic talents of many beyond the opera house. Members of the Pensacola Opera Chorus, the Pensacola Children’s Chorus and the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra will be a part of the show. The set is courtesy of New Orleans Opera Association designed by David Gano.

“Opera is the single art form that combines all art,” Marrero said. “It is scenic design, lighting, costumes, wigs and makeup, orchestral/symphonic, singing, dancing and acting. It is the one art form that can compete with video games. I simply love it and love the interaction with our community.”

It takes more than talented actors to make a show a success. Behind the curtain is where a lot of the drama takes place Thompson said.

“I love watching the stage hands bring the curtain in and out, finding the prop master prepping the candles and mixing and mingling with the offstage chorus,” she said. “My favorite moments are when the crew gives me ratings of 9.1 or 8.1 depending on my jump for the night.”

If the end of Pensacola Opera’s 2013 season is making you melodramatic, don’t worry. You can find comfort in counting down the days until the 2014 season. Bizet’s “Carmen” is set for January 17 and 19 and Rossini’s adaptation of Cinderella, “Cenerentola,” is set for March 21 and 23.

This season, just like others passed, have taught Marrero and the rest of the opera company that when it comes to the arts, Pensacola always expects the best.

“Our audience enjoys being challenged by new repertoire, but we must always provide a balance of top ten operatic masterpieces. No matter what, we have come to be known for quality,” Marrero said. “Our patrons trust that no matter what the title, it will be a quality production.”

TOSCA
WHEN: 7:30 p.m., Friday, March 15 and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 17
WHERE: Saenger Theatre, 118 S. Palafox
COST: $30-$110
DETAILS: pensacolaopera.com