Are you there, God? It’s me, Tosca

Santa Fe Opera’s “Tosca” opens the season with gripping performances

Leah Hawkins as Tosca with Joshua Guerrero as Cavaradossi in this summer’s performance of Tosca by Giacomo Puccini (Curtis Brown for the Santa Fe Opera)

Love, jealousy and political intrigue mixed with a heavy dose of religiosity drive Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca, which opened the Santa Fe Opera’s 2023 season on June 30 with gusto. First performances of Tosca in Santa Fe date to 1960, with the most recent occurring in 2012. At that time, SFR’s then-opera reviewer John Stege noted the opera’s obeisance to Aristotle’s rule of three for drama, which prescribed unity of action, time and place.

Specifically: Set in Rome in June 1800 over the course of one night and the next morning and amidst the political unrest of the Napoleonic wars, the opera is based on the five-act French melodrama La Tosca, written by Victorien Sardou with the French actress Sarah Bernhardt in mind. Puccini, who had seen the play, reshaped it into a three-act opera, with libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa (the Santa Fe Opera production runs approximately 2 1/2 hours with one 25-minute intermission, making for a relatively early night) and trimmed its focus to three main characters: painter Mario Cavaradossi, famed singer Floria Tosca and Chief of Police Baron Scarpia.

Tosca opens at the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, where escaped Bonapartist prisoner Cesare Angelotti, sung by baritone Blake Denson, has run to hide. Cavaradossi, tenor Joshua Guerrero, offers Angelotti his help, which puts him in Scarpia’s crosshairs. Scarpia, performed by baritone Reginald Smith Jr., menaces Tosca, soprano Leah Hawkins, offering to free her lover Cavaradossi if she gives herself to him. Spoiler alert: Everyone dies as the result of either murder or suicide.

Either despite or because of its gritty, sometimes-sordid plot points, Tosca—first performed in Rome in 1900—remains one of the most popular operas to date. Santa Fe’s production will have different singers performing the roles of both Tosca and Cavaradossi this summer, with Grammy Award-winning soprano Angel Blue in the former role for four performances starting later this month and Freddie De Tommaso taking over the role of Cavaradossi in August.

Named one of OperaWire’s rising stars in 2019, Hawkins makes her SFO debut this summer in Tosca. Her opening night performance was riveting throughout, but her Act 2 aria “Vissi d’arte,” in which the character entreats God wondering what she has done to deserve such a fate when she only lived for love and for art, was a showstopper. I wondered if a few of the opening-night empty seats might be attributed to operagoers holding out for Blue’s later performances, but reckon those of us who saw Hawkins in the role will someday boast of catching her early in her career (and of course attending performances of both singers is always an option). Guerrero and Smith Jr. also hold their own in the propulsive show—the latter’s depiction of the sadistic Scarpia came across as particularly venal at times.

The chorus under Chorus Master Susanne Sheston, and treble Kai Edgar singing the small but pivotal role of the shepherd boy toward the end added a great deal of poignancy and texture. The orchestra led by Conductor John Fiore was another high point of the show. Parts of the scene direction—from Director Keith Warner (in his SFO debut), scenic and costume designer Ashley Martin-Davis and lighting designer Allen Hahn—were visually compelling, particularly the array of Cavaradossi’s finished paintings in contrast with the open-air backdrop in Act 1, and the homage to Italian surrealist artist Giorgio di Chirico (SFO’s materials also cite Alfred Hitchcock’s influence, which this writer failed to note). The crowded Act 2 set in Scarpia’s chambers and obscured sightlines for the background torture of Cavaradossi created more murk than seemed necessary in an otherwise visually pleasing—in so far as an opera filled with relentless suffering can be pleasing—production.


8:30 pm, July 5, 8, 14, 21 8 pm Aug. 1, 7, 12, 19, 23, 26

$40-$380; $15 standing room

First-time NM residents are eligible for a 40% discount; call the box office in advance: (505) 986-5900 or (800) 280-4654. Day-of discounts available for students, seniors and military via the box office by phone or in person.


Leah Hawkins as Tosca June 30-July 8 & Aug. 12-26

Angel Blue, July 14-Aug. 7

Joshua Guerrero as Cavaradossi through Aug. 1; Freddie De Tommaso Aug. 7-26


Santa Fe Opera 2023 season

Tosca by Giacomo Puccini through Aug. 26

The Flying Dutchman by Richard Wagner through Aug. 25

Pelléas et Mélisande by Claude Debussy; July 15-Aug. 18

Rusalka by Antonín Dvořák; July 22-Aug. 22

Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi; July 29-Aug. 4

Apprentice scenes: Aug. 13 & 20

Prelude talks by opera educator Oliver Prezant happen in Stieren Orchestra Hall twice before most performances, with the first talk delivered two hours before the performance, and the second one hour before, with the exceptions of July 5, 7, 8, 14 and 15, on which dates only one prelude talk at 7 pm will occur.

Even more opera

The Santa Fe Opera’s Opera Makes Sense program, in conjunction with the Santa Fe Public Library, has its final program at 1 pm Friday, July 7 at La Farge Library (1730 Llano St.). Designed for children ages 3 to 5, the Young Voices of the Santa Fe Opera will present a 30 to 45-minute “exciting learning environment through opera performances and book readings.”

The 2023 Santa Fe Opera season also marks the 50th Anniversary of the Pueblo Opera Program, and will include the free 4 pm July 30 premiere at the Lensic Performing Arts Center of a new documentary film, The Pueblo Opera Program: And What Could Be Next, directed by Beverly R. Singer of Santa Clara Pueblo and produced by the Pueblo Opera Cultural Council in collaboration with the Santa Fe Opera. Learn more and watch the trailer here: https://tinyurl.com/4djrj5db

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