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Opera San Antonio Returns To Airwaves With 'Tosca' Broadcast

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On Tuesday, August 25 at 7:00, KPAC 88.3 FM will broadcast Opera San Antonio's production of Giacomo Puccini's "Tosca," recorded last September at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. The broadcast will be hosted by Nathan Cone and will also feature narration from KPAC's archives by the late Julio Gonzalez, who hosted opera broadcasts on KPAC in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The broadcast is also the first full-length opera to be featured on KPAC since Opera San Antonio's production of "Fantasic Mr. Fox," by Tobias Picker, was aired in 2015.

Francesco Milioto, Music Director of Opera San Antonio, recently spoke to Nathan Cone from his home in Chicago about "Tosca" and the future of our local company. An edited transcript of their conversation is below.

Nathan Cone: Can you talk just a little bit about the level of realism in Tosca? I mean, the opera term being verismo, this was kind of a new thing for Puccini, I think, wasn't it?

Francesco Milioto: I mean, it's something that he definitely brought to the forefront that would have happened at the end of the 19th century with "Cavalleria Rusticana" and Mascagni, and then, of course, Puccini took from what Verdi was doing with "Falstaff" and really developed into the premiere composer for verismo. And for me, it's all about... I was just talking about this with for Cavalleria Rusticana just the other day. But the the important thing to notice in verismo that the audience members will hear right away is that there's really no, like, embellishments of notes and lengths of things and things aren't really dragged out and feelings aren't like.... the drama doesn't usually stop and put a spotlight on something and and really hold for, like, vocal fireworks of any kind like it would have done in bel canto or in standard arias of Verdi, even.

So for me, when you look at a score, you notice that every note--or more notes than before--would have actual words on them or syllables, because the marriage of the text and the music and the atmosphere, it's closer to being at a play than it is like something that you would have heard in opera before, like baroque music with all the embellishments and things about being about the voice. This definitely is drama-driven music. And you notice that right away, just in the speed that the text and the story goes forward compared to how it would have before. And that's just something that Puccini absolutely mastered. And this work is a prime example of that.

Yeah. A colleague of mine once characterized it is almost the precursor to modern film scoring because of the way that the score is integrated with the action itself.

Absolutely. I mean, this is where film music... this is where a lot of the Hollywood composers, I don't want to stay "stole," but I am putting my fingers up in air quotes! (They) stole a lot of the ideas and and music. And of course, now you're talking about also bigger orchestras than we would have used in bel canto and baroque music before that. So the amount of colors and the amount of choices that a composer had to really create the tension of that, I mean, like just even the https://youtu.be/_mzbapIWMLU" target="_blank">torture scene in Act Two, like the way they sort of do those big waves that film composers obviously have to do even quicker. That's absolutely where the idea of that kind of atmosphere, building and connection to the feeling (came from). You know, I think it's even better to say that the composers learned how to break that fourth wall really with a lot of the music, and they can really bring you into the drama and make you feel what they want you to feel and really pull that tension with the music that they're writing and the pacing that they're doing. You can physically understand and feel the pacing that the composer wants, which is exactly what a film composer is supposed to be doing. I mean, it's such a great bridge between the two.

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1899 poster advertising "Tosca."

And as I understand it, Puccini actually wrote a lot of stage details in his score. And this was a new thing as well.

You know, as the 20th century came in, as composers.... like the demands that they put on their music and on the singers and the tight connection... like Puccini, really, I don't want to say struggled, but was involved a lot. like Verdi, with the librettists and the people that were delivering the text to him. So definitely he put in, just like Mahler scores, or just like anything any of these composers in this time, the closer we get to the 20th century, the more they put in there, because it's kind of like like seeing like film directions, I would imagine. It's just that they had such a special pacing and timing for what they wanted. And the music is creating a certain feeling, a certain mood, a certain atmosphere, because they had in their minds also the sets. So he knew exactly what he wanted and what what was supposed to be happening and what he wrote that music for. So, yes, you're absolutely right. He definitely has a lot of specific stage direction that coincides with music that he wrote.

Thinking back to these performances in particular here in San Antonio, what would you like to say about the cast in your principals that were part of the production?

I mean, it's rare for me to have such a a luxurious cast. I mean, Rafael (Davila), and, you know, all of them have worked at the Met. Michael Chioldi and Jennifer Rowley. You know, it's very rare when you have people that have done all of the roles of the opera multiple times. So they have an exceptional level of experience with their own roles. But then to be lucky enough to pull people that have sung this opera in these roles together, they already know each other. They know each other's styles. They know each other onstage better. So the entire experience was an absolute collaboration. We were learning from each other. We were supporting each other and helping each other figure out everything that made them comfortable. And the best way to get the maximum performance out of all of them. So, you can imagine when when someone is debuting a role, there's a whole different set of things that they're nervous about. When they have not worked with anybody, there's a learning curve to all of that. Just by having these three principals, and Joel (Sorensen) as Spoletta. I mean, we had such experienced people in all of these roles. We were so far ahead of a standard learning curve that it was really, really fun to bring (stage director) Loren's ideas to life and to bring my ideas to life and to support these artists and really get the best performance we could out of them. And, of course, with the supporting San Antonio Symphony, I mean, it's just such a blessing to have that orchestra in the pit. I've worked with many, many opera companies and a lot of the times you have a pickup orchestra. And when you're doing things with an orchestra that plays every week together, that's also another thing that puts us ahead of the learning curve. So this this particular project with these particular people... it started way further ahead, and I think we achieved an incredible level of understanding and performance by the end of it because of that.

During this pandemic time, what have you been working on, and what plans tentatively are out there for Opera San Antonio?

So, I mean, incredibly difficult times, of course, with the cancelation of "Rigoletto" and the cancelation of "Don Giovanni" this fall. So we've done a little bit of a pivot here to to increase our online presence. So we've got a show that we do on Fridays called "Beyond the Production" on Facebook Live and our YouTube channel as well. So we're trying to do a little bit more of that. Everything just hangs in what we are able to do with all of the ordinances from either the city or the state or the federal government. So we are doing our best to plan a safe concert in the fall if that ends up being possible. And of course, we hope to be back in the Tobin with a wonderful production of "Lucia" featuring Brenda Rae in the title role in early spring of 2021.

So, you know, it's just a matter of reorganizing, reshuffling. Of course, postponing the productions that entails an entire, you know, communications with agents and singers and set designers and all kinds of things. So we've been busy doing all of that and trying to figure out how to present a couple of live things safely and and build our presence online. So that's basically what we've been working on. And hopefully we will see everybody for live shows that we can broadcast on TPR in the spring for "Lucia."

Great. Well, Maestro Francesco Milioti, I appreciate it.

Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me on. Nathan, this is great. I look forward to many more in the future.

KPAC 88.3 FM will broadcast "Tosca" at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, August 25.

Nathan has been with TPR since 1995, when he began working on classical music station KPAC 88.3 FM, as host of “Tuesday Night at the Opera.”  He soon learned the ropes on KSTX 89.1 FM, and volunteered to work practically any shift that came his way, on either station. He worked in nearly every capacity on the radio before moving into Community Engagement, Marketing, and Digital Media. His reporting and criticism has been honored by the Houston Press Club and Texas Associated Press.