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ToscaSeattle Opera just opened 2015 with fireworks of their own: Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca opened its run at McCaw Hall, until January 24, so add another jewel to the company’s tiara.

This production is one of their best. The cast includes Greer Grimsley (coming down from Valhalla as Wotan from numerous company performances in Wagner’s Ring Cycle) in an unspeakably powerful and wicked performance as Scarpia; the Lithuanian soprano Ausrine Stundyte as Floria Tosca; (earlier seen here as a heart-breaking Cio-Cio San in Madama Butterfly) and tenor Stefano Secco as Cavaradossi. Their performances, meshed with conductor Julian Kovatchev’s masterful work with the orchestra, elevates this show into one of the best I’ve ever seen.

I have to confess right now  that Tosca was the first opera I ever saw. I studied the libretto in advance and I read the program notes carefully and fully and was not disappointed: it was everything I expected to be be and became (and remains) my favorite. Interestingly, though, this was about 40 some years ago, so I don’t recall who was in the cast.

Tosca’s tale is timeless, which is one reason it’s still around, even though Puccini throws in so much backstory and color that it’s one of the few operas which cannot be “updated”. But the characters are complex and real, and the second act, in which Scarpio forces Tosca to reveal Angelotti’s hiding place by hearing Cavaradossi being tortured in the next room, is one of the most riveting in any opera. It all ends with an ending which Shakespeare would have used.

Tosca herself is drawn as one of the most complex women in opera: Proud and prone to jealousy, she’s torn between love and hate, but is no shrinking violet like many opera heroines. Floria Tosca is a strong woman, tough enough to have succeeded on her own, and not afraid to do whatever is necessary to fight for survival.

The top-notch cast delivers world-class results, especially Grimsley. In addition to being a great Wotan, he’s now one of the opera world’s great Scarpios, too.

Quite frugally, Seattle Opera re-uses its production design, saving money and benefitting more than just one opera company. The costumes are by Andrew Marlay, borrowed from the New York City Opera. The set has been in the Seattle Opera’s possession since the 1960’s and are hand- painted in an awe-inspiring trompe l’oeil style by Ercole Sormani, of one of Europe’s great dynasties of scenic painting.

What this all means is this: the 2010’s is the decade that Seattle moves into its place on the national stage; it’s currently the United State’s fastest growing city, we have a nationally-known symphony, more community theaters winning Tonys and Pulitzer prizes than God has guppies, and now a legendary pro football team, the Seattle Seahawks. The Seattle Opera has done its part to help Seattle get here, and with productions like Tosca, it will continue that.

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