(photo credit: Courtesy)
'Everybody has a home theater - I always feel that I'm coming home when I perform in Israel," says soprano MichÃ¨le Crider. Crider returns to Israel after her January performance as Margherita in Mefistofeles, to sing the role of Tosca, which premieres on April 21. This cinematic staging of Giacomo Puccini's Tosca, designed and directed by Hugo De Ana, was originally created for the Israeli Opera nine years ago. Daniel Oren is conducting the opera, which will be performed in Italian with both English and Hebrew superscripts. Crider will alternate as Tosca with Chinese soprano Hui He, in her local debut performance.
Praising the warmth of the Israeli audience, Crider says, "Its not that the western world doesn't appreciate opera, but they show it in a different way, as if they are saying, 'Let's see what you can do.' Here the audience is full of love. All you want to do is your best and it's easier to do your best when you have the support."
Appreciative of the luxurious two weeks of rehearsals, Crider is accustomed to going onstage with very little prep time. Sometimes she meets her singing partners for the first time onstage. "I'm a people person," she says, "I can sit for hours looking at people. You have to read them. There's always some indication of what they're going to do - the look in their eyes, their body language, their hands. If they push your hand in a certain way, you know they want you to sit down - it's like a dance."
Of Tosca she says, "It's a very powerful opera. The soprano role is very diverse. She is not only a very jealous woman with strong feelings, but also has a difficult choice between becoming a nun or a performer. It's a role that a lot of young singers start with, but you have to be careful. It's a very dramatic role. I chose to sing it later in my career."
In interpreting the role Crider draws on her knowledge of the opera's origins in the drama La Tosca by Victorien Sardou, which premiered in 1887 with Sarah Bernhardt in the title role. Puccini's Tosca is a singer possessively in love with the painter Cavaradossi, and desired in turn by the Baron Scarpia, but he does not elaborate on her background. It is in Sardou's play that one learns of Tosca's religious past.
Yet the opera is replete with religious imagery and De Ana, who views the set as an integral part of the opera, has designed it to reflect the power and influence of religion. Filming the locations in Rome where specific scenes take place, De Ana created a cinematic palimpsest of transparent layers of images that loom in the background, emblematic and suggestive rather than realistic, conveying a sense of mystery.
Crider relishes the challenges presented by her role, "She has so many emotions in such a short span of time - that's me, that's where I live. That's fantastic!" Praising Puccini's ability to convey vivid pictures, she notes the significance of the pauses. "Even in the moments when she's not singing, you still have to read it," she says.
In an instant she becomes Tosca, silently taking the letter from Scarpia's corpse, her whole being radiating strength of purpose. Tosca's fire flashes in her eyes, and then she smiles mischievously and says, "You know at that moment, every woman in the audience is saying - YEAH! In opera, the soprano is always dying. Hereâ€¦ I get to kill the baritone!"
Tosca is performed at the Israeli Opera - 19 Shaul Hamelech Blvd., (03) 692-7777 - from April 21 through May 7. Tickets are NIS 175-428. The writer blogs at midnighteast.com