By LARRY KELLUM
Puccini’s 3rd most popular opera, the violent but gorgeous “TOSCA” returns to Connecticut in May when the CT Lyric Opera and the CT Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra present a new production of the masterpiece in its usual four venues throughout the state. Composed in 1900 and based on the famous French Sardou play “La Tosca”, artistic director Adrian Sylveen will conduct and surely will capture the essence of the piece, which has been filmed (two movies with Domingo and one with Franco Corelli) more than any other opera except “La Traviata” by Verdi.
Tosca is the quintessential Puccini heroine and, thus, usually the favorite of most sopranos. She isn’t the tear-jerker that is Suor Angelica and Mimi, the scream fest that is Turandot and Minnie, the exhausting marathon that is Butterfly or the 45 minute quickie that is Giorgetta in “Tabarro”. It is the perfect length, as a role and as an opera, the spectacular high C’s are well placed, and she gets to wear beautiful costumes and act up a storm in a role that is anything but one dimensional. CLO’s resident diva Jurate Svedaite stars in the run as she did in 2011 when this company last presented the work. To re-quote this reviewer’s very own words from that glorious evening “she scorched and she sizzled” even after recovering from a bout with the flu. Well, it is 6 years later, Ms. Svedaite is as healthy as a horse and her characterization can only broaden and deepen second time around. Tenor Daniel Juarez comes full circle as the painter Mario. In that 2011 performance (his debut season), he sang the bit part of Spoletta and now stars as the diva’s beloved lover.
The romantic couple’s lives will both be destroyed by two sterling bass-baritones Andrew Potter and Steve Fredericks, who have both appeared together to rave reviews with this company in past performances of “La Boheme” and “Rigoletto”. However, because of a unique twist of casting, the gentlemen will be switching and trading off BOTH roles, singing two performances each of the fugitive Angelotti and the malignant, corrupt Police Chief Scarpia who pursues him for two acts. On Feb. 22, local music critic Larry Kellum had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Fredericks, and here are some highlights of that enjoyable conversation…….
LK— How old are you?
SF— Just recently turned 60
LK— Me too! In January!
SF— Yes. My wife sings in the Metropolitan Opera Chorus.
LK— How did your career get started?
SF— Well, I was never an outstanding kid in sports or music — just average, normal — but I did sing in the high school chorus and then “Sound of Music”. That’s when I became hooked and began my vocal development.
LK— Any particular singers you coached, studied or trained with?
SF— At various times along the way, there were the great Met sopranos Gabriella Tucci, Elinor Ross and Diana Soviero, but I learned the most from my idol Jerome Hines. My actual favorite star from those good old days, besides Hines, was tenor Mario Del Monaco, but I got the most inspiration for Scarpia from George London. He was so totally perfect…..every nuance, every tiny detail, every innuendo…..and that tremendous voice that could do both bass and baritone roles.
LK— Wow! I still have the old classic “Tosca” recording with, him, Del Monaco and Tebaldi!
LK— Favorite roles?
SF— I promise to not answer with the clichéd “the one I am singing right now!” Definitely the Dutchman, Boito’s Mefistofele” and I love Arkel in Debussy’s “Pelleas”.
LK— The legendary soprano Mirella Freni once said that the first word, in any language, that every opera singer must learn is “NO!”, which is hard when you are young and need the money and exposure. There have been countless singers who have walked out of numerous bizarre productions because some stubborn, maverick director asked them to do stage business that the singer found obscene, offensive or ridiculous. Do you feel you have reached that level where artistic integrity is the most important factor?
SF— Yes, absolutely!
LK— Finally, I understand that you have sung and taught at the Greve Festival in Italy, where the Viruosi and the CLO have participated in over the last few summers.
SF—- Yes, I am on their faculty and we are taking this “Tosca” over there this summer like we did with our successful “Marriage of Figaros” and “Bohemes” in previous summers.
LK— Thank-you for your time! Eagerly awaiting for you four singers to rock that stage in May!
For dates, venues, times, tickets and more info, please visit thevirtuosi.org or ctlyricopera.org