Review: Skylight's Elegant TOSCA Elevates the Art of Opera

By: Oct. 02, 2015
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In a new season celebrating creative women, Skylight Music Opera opens with an elegant tribute to composer Giacomo Puccini's Tosca. Jill Anna Ponasik, Artistic Director of Milwaukee Opera Theatre, weaves the libretto by Luigi Illica and Amanda Holden's English translastion into a visually stunning and stellar version of the Italian opera which first premiered in Rome, 1900, and appears this fall, on stage in the Milwaukee's Cabot Theatre.

While Ponasik directs the production, collaborations with Scenic Designer Lisa Schlenker and Costume Designer Kristy Leigh Hall bring a striking artisitc and contemporary component to the stage. Jason Fassl, well known to Milwaukee audiences, illuminates the minimalistic stage with his lighting desings, and includes words written in sciript projected on a huge vertical fabric screen to also illuminate the Italian language for several arias. Viewed in this venue, the audience remains riveted to the stage in intimacy between the characters and in the theater, solidifying the turbulent events that occurr on stage within a 48 hour time span, where each moment offers elevation to a heightened emotion.

Three acts retell the story of a devout opera diva, Tosca, who loves a chapel artist, Cavaradossi. When a political prisoner escapes and hides in the chapel where Tosca and Cavaradossi secretly meet, their lives unravel when the conniving police chief Scarpia intervenes to uncover where the prisonor has been hidden away by the two lovers. When Scarpia captures and tortures Cavaradossi, and tries to seduce Tosca, her determination to save her love requires sacrifice.

Cassandra Aaron Black revels in the primal energy of Tosca, an opera diva tromented by what fate has allowed in her once luxurious life. A ethereal gown creates an angelic effect, shimmers in silver in the second acts, a stark contrast to the evil Scarpia persona, dressed in fitted black leather jacket and boots. His character devilshiy played to precision by David Kravitz.

Black and Chaz'men Williams-Ali, the two lovers, Tosca and the humble Cavarodossi, connect on stage, tentaively at first, whih explodes in the third act. Here, when the two believe in their devotion that "love has won, ascending and trembling with celestial fire," sparks fly in voiced Italian and English, which Ponasik and Skylight's Artistic Director Subbaraman believed were both needed to capture the essence of emotion regarding art and love Puccini wrote about.

Fiery and furious to the tragic end, Puccini's and Skylight's Tosca ignites a passion in the audience for opera. From the lower box seats surrounding the center theater audience, theatergoers delight in watching Subbaraman conduct the 20 piece orchestra, an orchestration reduced from the original by Kenneth Roberts, where the voice and music were in perfect tension. While ultimately tragic, the final aria sung in Italian eptiomizes the heartwrenching cries of love with theatricality. A reverent silence hovered over the audience after the intermission when Puccini catapults the opera to the conclusion on opening night.

Black commands the opera in this Skylight season dedicated to celebrating creative women, with their first nod to the passionate Tosca---a character who breathed her art and life to the fullest, unwavering in her decison to love from her heart's sublime depth, where only one decision at the finale becomes possible. When Cavaradossi claims "Never have I loved life so much [than when caressing Tosca]' this intensely evocative production will make the audience respond, "Never have I loved opera so much."

Anyone in Milwaukee who wishes to experience opera for the first time-- yes, see the Skylight's entrancingTosca. For those who are already opera devotees, this Tosca empties the tears from the eyes, yet fills the spirit to transform a fall evening with the beauty of art and music. Those who appreciate those hidden, unknown secrets life holds know only how well one small event, seemingly insignificant, can ignite a small spark that will irrrevocably transform and fire the future, to a place that Cavaradossi sings might be "lower than despair or higher than love."

The Skylight Music Opera presents Puccini's Tosca at the Cabot Theatre in the Broadway Theare Centre. For special events or programming, information or tickets, please call: 414;291.7800 or

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