Tom Strini

Florentine’s Tosca not the same old, same old

By - Nov 17th, 2009 08:25 pm
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Madama Butterfly, Carmen and Rigoletto, with 10 productions each, stand atop the Florentine Opera‘s repertoire list with 10 runs each in the company’s history. Puccini’s Tosca is closing in. The company will produce the tale of tragically short-tempered Italians for the ninth time this weekend.

In the past, these oft-produced, surefire operas sometimes got short shrift, with rented sets and casts flown in to do what they do with minimal rehearsal.

The Florentine has taken steps to try to make its 2009 Tosca not just another Tosca. For starters, the company’s director of design and production, Noele Stollmack, has created an open set with a raked stage. It’s all about projections, lights and space — and people.

Dean Anthony

Dean Anthony

“We’re doing Tosca in our environment,” said Dean Anthony, the director. “The environment helps. It’s so lean that it will force the performers to step up to their dramatic A-game. The audience will focus entirely on the two or three people on the stage. Which I think is great. This will be a relationship-based Tosca, more than most.”

Anthony turned more and more to directing over the last six years. It follows a 27-year stage career in which he played 90 different roles in opera houses all over the world.

“I was a character guy,” he said. His roles included Puck in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which he played at the Florentine’s 2001-2002 season. He was Goro in various Butterflies and Pong in Turandot. His roles tended to include physical comedy.

“I was an acrobat,” Anthony said. “That was my niche. A reviewer in The Washington Post called me ‘the tumbling tenor.’ In the opera world, I was more of an acting singer.”

He counts Dorothy Danner, who has done a lot of great work with the Skylight Opera Theatre, and David Gately, who directed that Florentine “Midsummer,” as his chief mentors as a director.

“Dotty Danner taught me the importance of physical energy and how it can be a part of opera,” he said. “Two summers ago, I was the movement and acting teacher with David Gately at the Brevard Music Center, in North Carolina.”

Since August, Anthony has been resident stage director and director of production at the Shrevep0rt Opera. That company is tiny and asks a lot of its very few full-time staffers.

“I build my own props there,” Anthony said. “I drive a truck around and pick things up. To come here and just direct, it’s like a vacation.”

He frankly regards the chance to direct at the Florentine as a step up and a career boost. He’s especially glad to have the chance to work with Stollmack, rather than be plugged into a rented set with walls, doors and furniture to work around.

” I know the cast has all done it before,” he said. “But they only see it from their own heads and their own characters. My job is to take the entire piece from A to Z.”

Anthony cam to Milwaukee armed with complete blocking, which he worked out by walking through all the parts in his living room.

“And then my Angelotti is 6’4″ and skinny,” he said. “So I change.”

When I spoke with Anthony on Nov. 11, at the Florentine’s Riverwest shops and rehearsal space, he was thrilled with the cooperation and openness of his cast. He went on at some length about the scene in which Floria Tosca, the tragic heroine, kills Scarpia, the sadistic chief of police.

“Usually, it’s just a stab and he’s dead,” Anthony said. “We’ve physicalized it, so it’s believable. We’re really telling the story.”

Act 3 is the tricky part. It involves the death of the hero, Cavaradossi, by firing squad. Tosca then kills herself by flinging herself off the castle tower.

“Act 3 usually starts with soldiers waking up and yawning,” Anthony said. “You’re not getting that.”

He was coy about what we would get. And he and Stollmack were coy about what would be on those projections. And most of all about how Tosca will fall to her death with no castle and no parapet. They didn’t want to spoil the surprises.

Imagine that; a Florentine Tosca with surprises.

Cast and Credits
Floria Tosca, Cynthia Lawrence; Cavaradossi, Renzo Zulian; Scarpia, Todd Thomas; Angelotti, Jamie Offenbach; Spoletta, Frank Kelley; Sacristan, Matthew Lau. Director: Dean Anthony; Conductor: Joseph Rescigno; Designer, Noele Stollmack.

Performance Times: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20-22.

Venue: Marcus Center Uihlein Hall, 929 N. Water St.

Tickets: $28-$140 at the Florentine’s website, its ticket line (414-291-5700 ext. 224) and at the Marcus Center box office, 414-273-7206.

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