Lyric Opera of Chicago

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Opera 101: Q&A with TOSCA Assistant Director Shawna Lucey

It takes a village to put together an opera, and one of the most important roles is the assistant director. Shawna Lucey, who is assistant director for Lyric's production of Puccini's Tosca  (on stage now through March 14) gives a quick overview of her linchpin role as keeper of the "opera playbook."

It takes a village to put together an opera, and one of the most important roles is the assistant director. Shawna Lucey, who is assistant director for Lyric's production of Puccini's Tosca (on stage now through March 14) gives a quick overview of her linchpin role—essentially acting as the translator for the director's desires to the rest of the company and keeper of the "opera playbook."

Can you give a basic description of what an assistant director does? What is your role in the opera creation process?

An assistant director on an opera has many responsibilities—both assisting the director of the show as well as communicating the desires of the director to many departments of the opera company. The AD creates and maintains the blocking book—this has the entire score as well as pages with diagrams of the set to document the movement and motivation of every character onstage. This book is used as a reference tool when rehearsing understudies or when a production is shown at multiple theaters. It's almost like an NFL playbook!

 
The blocking book and production photo from in Act 2 of Tosca with Tatiana Serjan (Tosca) and Evgeny Nikitin (Scarpia)

The AD is responsible for helping the director coordinate the schedule—making sure the correct people are called to rehearsal at the correct times. The AD communicates the director's desires both to the chorus as well as to any supernumeraries in the show, making sure that they understand any notes given by the director. The AD also works closely with stage management and the technical staff to execute the necessary technical elements so crucial to the production.

 
The blocking book and production photo for the opening bars of Tosca with
Richard Ollarsaba as Angelotti

How does the assistant director collaborate with the director, in this case John Caird, before and during the rehearsal process?

It's been absolutely wonderful to work with John (pictured right). I think we've both enjoyed the collaboration on this show. John Caird was directing Bohème in San Francisco this fall, where I was assisting on productions of Norma and La Cenerentola, so we went out to dinner and had a great conversation-both about the production and his vision behind it as well as theater, politics and football (we're both Packers fans). Before and after rehearsals we've discussed major ideas as well as truths about the characters. His patience, kindness, and cleverness have lead to a delightful rehearsal process.

What do you find most exciting or thrilling about this production of Tosca?

John's directing is so detailed and so precise; this is a thrilling production of Tosca. He has put his heart and his mind to the text as well as the music, and what's resulted is a Tosca that hits deep in the audience's hearts and minds. I think the design is brilliant as well and welcomes us in. Each act is full of subtlety and excellent storytelling, so that when the opera reaches its tragic conclusion—which most people already know coming into the theater—John's directing creates the tragedy anew, having so delicately built the story to that irreversible point.

 
Scenes from Tosca starring Tatiana Serjan (Tosca), Brian Jagde (Cavaradossi), and Evgeny Nikitin (Scarpia)

What has drawn you to opera more generally? What is your educational background?

I majored in Italian at the University of Texas at Austin. I followed graduation with a post-baccalaureate semester at the Moscow Art Theater. After working in New York theater for two years, I decided to pursue an MFA (Master of Fine Arts). Not satisfied with the choices here in the U.S., I decided to move to Moscow and study there. I had heard that learning a third language is easier than learning your second. I didn't realize that didn't apply if the third language was Russian! While I was completing my MFA in directing at the Boris Schukin Theater Institute of the Vakhtangov Theater, my directing mentor said I should look into directing opera, since languages and music are two of my passions. I went to Santa Fe as a technical apprentice and fell deeply in love with opera. I haven't looked back since! 

Did your fluency in Russian help with this particular production of Tosca, which has several Russian artists? 

Yes—my Russian background did come in handy with this cast. Ms. Serjan speaks Russian & Italian, but not English. I was originally contacted by Lyric to work on this show because they knew they needed an assistant director who spoke Russian. I translated for Tatiana throughout the process. Evgeny Nikitin and Mo. [Dmitri] Jurowski both speak English, but it's been great to have an almost "secret" language that we can joke with each other in.

What's your favorite opera or what opera do you dream of directing one day?

My favorite opera changes all the time! It's so difficult to say because there are so many great operas to choose from.

This is your Lyric debutdo you have any observations about working with the company or being in Chicago so far?

This is my Lyric debut and I'm having a wonderful time. The staging staff department, many of whom I knew from other houses, are some of the best in the country. That and the excellent crews here make for a fantastic first experience. The strength of these departments is reflected in the excellence of the productions here at Lyric. It's an honor to be here.

And what about when you're not workinghow do you enjoy Chicago?

I'm really enjoying the city! It seems like a lively place. I went and saw a puppet show by Blind Summit at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, which was excellent, and I am looking forward to checking out the jazz scene here! 

Photo credits:

  • Shawney Lucey portrait courtesy Shawna Lucey
  • Blocking book photos courtesy Shawna Lucey
  • Production photos from Tosca at Lyric Opera of Chicago credit Michael Brosilow (first photo) and Todd Rosenberg (remaining photos)
  • John Caird portrait courtesy John Caird

 

Lyric Libations: TOSCA

Love. Jealousy. Revolution. Death. It all can be found in Puccini's Tosca (at Lyric January 24 through March 14). Three characters-the rebel, the diva, and the villain-are caught a game of cat-and-mouse with deadly consequences. Non-stop drama could require a cocktail (or three) to unwind. Pick your favorite!

Love. Jealousy. Revolution. Death. It all can be found in Puccini's Tosca (at Lyric January 24 through March 14). Three characters—the rebel, the diva, and the villain—are caught a game of cat-and-mouse with deadly consequences. Non-stop drama could require a cocktail (or three) to unwind. Pick your favorite!

Vissi d'arte 

Floria Tosca lives only for art and for love—her passionate nature leads her to make some impulsive, and ultimately deadly, decisions. This cocktail pays tribute to her over-the-top personality with sweet agave and spicy jalapeno; blood oranges give it an appropriately crimson color (no stabbing required!).  

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (8 fl ounces) fresh squeezed blood orange juice
  • 2 tbs Agave
  • 4 fl ounces whiskey
  • 1 medium sized jalapeño, chopped, stem removed (about 2 tbs)

In a cocktail shaker, add the blood orange juice, agave and whiskey, stir until combined. Add the jalapenos, replace the shaker cap and shake three times, immediately pour through a strainer into two highball glasses filled with ice, straining out the jalapeños. Discard the jalapeño.  (Recipe from Honest Cooking)

The Rebel Artist 

Mario Cavaradossi is hot-blooded and brash; his love for Tosca is only equaled by his fervent political beliefs. Quench your thirst for justice with this fiery cocktail that combines sweet strawberries with spicy Sriracha.

Ingredients

  • Half of 1 ripe strawberry
  • 1 stalk cilantro, chopped in 3 pieces
  • 2 thin slices cucumber
  • 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/4 ounce agave nectar
  • 1/8 ounce amaro (I used Averna)
  • 2 ounces tequila
  • 2 drops Sriracha, or more to taste
  • Ice
  • Garnish: 3 thin slices cucumber

Muddle strawberry, cilantro, and two cucumber slices. Add lime juice, agave nectar, amaro, tequila, and Sriracha. Fill shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and double-strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with remaining cucumber slices. (Recipe from Serious Eats)

Scarpia's Sazerac 

This classic cocktail is as bitter as Scarpia's soul. The strong poison seeps into your veins and can make you susceptible to all kinds of dark insinuations. Those who are easily swayed by their emotions have been warned!

Ingredients

  • 1 sugar cube
  • 2 1/2 ounces rye whisky
  • 2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • absinthe
  • lemon peel

In an Old-Fashioned glass (not a mixing glass; it's part of the ritual), muddle a sugar cube with a few drops of water. Add several small ice cubes and the rye whiskey, the Peychaud's bitters, and the Angostura bitters. Stir well and strain into a second, chilled, Old-Fashioned glass in which you have rolled around a few drops of absinthe until its inside is thoroughly coated, pouring off the excess. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.  (Recipe from Esquire)

Tosca's Kiss 

This drink is deceptively sweet and naive, but ultimately just as potent as the diva for which it is named. It's the perfect cocktail to sip if you want to forget all of your troubles. Or, for a more sinister use, it truly could be the kiss of death for the sadistic man who is plotting to kill your one true love and take his place in your heart…and your bed.

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 oz Red Vodka
  • 1 tbsp Cointreau
  • 1 tbsp Apricot Brandy

Shake all ingredients well with ice in a cocktail shaker. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. (Recipe from Spiritdrinks.com)

Photo credits:

  • Tatiana Serjan, Brian Jagde, and Evgeny Nikitin in Puccini's Tosca at Lyric Opera of Chicago (credit Todd Rosenberg) 

 

TOSCA: A Lyric Photo History

Gobbi. Tebaldi. Bergonzi. Martins. Tucker. Pavarotti. Domingo. Scotto. Ramey. Morris. Voigt. These are just some of the amazing singers who have appeared in Puccini's Tosca on stage at Lyric. Learn more about the history of his magnificent opera at Lyric before seeing it on stage from January 24 to March 15 with six more stars: Serjan, Jagde, Evgeny Nikitin, He, de León, and Delavan. 

Puccini's Tosca is one of the most dramatic and passionate works in the repertoire—no wonder it's been a Lyric favorite since the company's very first season in 1954. This magnificent opera returns to Chicago from January 24 to March 14 in a new production from acclaimed director John Caird, who dazzled audiences with last season's Parsifal.

Before you come to see the new production, here's a selective look back at the history of this enormously popular opera at Lyric, which has been produced 17 times so far! Just a few of the stars who have appeared in this opera at Lyric are Renata Tebaldi, Tito Gobbi, Richard Tucker, Carlo Bergonzi, Janis Martin, Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, Grace Bumbry, Renata Scotto, Sherrill Milnes, James Morris, Samuel Ramey, and Deborah Voigt.

1960 

 
Renata Tebaldi and Tito Gobbi in performance (L) and taking a bow (R)

Tosca was produced in the 1954, 1956, and 1957 seasons with productions from directors William Wymetal ('54) and Aldo Mirabella Vassallo ('56 and '57). For the 1960 season, Lyric mounted a production by director Carlo Maestrini that featured three greats in the main roles: Renata Tebaldi as Tosca, Giuseppe di Stefano as Cavaradossi, and Tito Gobbi as Scarpia. For many years, Gobbi truly was Lyric's pre-eminent Scarpia, appearing in the first six productions the company would mount in the 1950s and 60s, and then returning for two more in the 1970s. Tebaldi also appeared as Tosca in the company's 1956 production. Lyric history fun fact: did you know that future general director William Mason (and current general director emeritus) was the Shepherd Boy in the 1954, 1956, and 1957 productions?

1962

 
Régine Crespin and Giuseppe Zampieri (L); Crespin and Tito Gobbi (R)

Tito Gobbi returned as Scarpia in this new production from director Riccardo Moresco, conducted by Carlo Felice Cillario. Giuseppe Zampieri portrayed Cavaradossi with Régine Crespin as Tosca

1964 

 
Tito Gobbi in the famous Te Deum scene (top); Régine Crespin and Richard Tucker (bottom L), Tucker and Gobbi (bottom R)

The Moresco production returned to Lyric, with Tito Gobbi again starring as Scarpia, marking his sixth appearance in the role at Lyric. Bruno Bartoletti conducted in his first year as Lyric's co-artistic director (with Pino Donati). The great tenor Richard Tucker starred as Cavaradossi with Régine Crespin returning as Tosca.

1971 

 
Clockwise from top L: Carlo Bergonzi as Cavaradossi; Janis Martin and Tito Gobbi face off as Tosca and Scarpia; Martin is greeted by Maria Caniglia backstage.

Though Lyric also put on a production of Tosca in 1968, 1971 is a significant year as it was the first season that Lyric would present the James C. Hemphill production, directed by Tito Gobbi and designed by Pier Luigi Pizzi. This production became a company staple, presented a total of six times in the 1970s and 80s. This is the first time that Gobbi both directed and starred as Scarpia at Lyric. Also in this production were two opera greats who passed away in 2014: Carlo Bergonzi as Cavaradossi and Janis Martin as the titular diva. In the candid backstage photo above, Martin is greeted by Maria Caniglia, wife of then co-artistic director Pino Donato and one of the greatest Toscas in the history of the role!

1976

 
Clockwise from top L: Luciano Pavarotti at his most passionate; Cavaradossi (Pavarotti) and Scarpia (Cornell MacNeil) square off; Tosca (Carol Neblett) with Cavaradossi; MacNeil and Neblett as Scarpia and Tosca

The Hemphill production was revived in both 1973 and 1976. The 1976 production featured famed tenor Luciano Pavarotti's only performance of Cavaradossi on Lyric's stage. Carol Neblett and Cornell MacNeil portrayed Tosca and Scarpia, with Tito Gobbi remaining behind the scenes for this production as director.  

1982 

 
Top: Tito Gobbi (center) directs Grace Bumbry and Veriano Luchetti; Bottom: Siegmund Nimsbern and Eva Marton (L) and Grace Bumbry prepares for Tosca's leap (R)

The enduring Hemphill production with Tito Gobbi again directing saw two casts take on this opera, with the above photo illustrating his directing technique. This would be the last time he would direct his signature opera at Lyric. Veriano Luchetti and rising young tenor Plácido Domingo shared the role of Cavaradossi. Grace Bumbry and Eva Marton portrayed the diva; and Ingvar Wixell and Siegmund Nimsgern each played Scarpia.

1987-88 

 
Clockwise from top L: Giuliano Ciannella and Renata Scotto; Sherrill Milnes and Scotto; Ciannella; Milnes in the Te Deum scene

The incomparable Renata Scotto portrayed Tosca in this season's revival of the Hemphill production, this time brought to life with revival director Herbert Kellner following original director Titto Gobbi's death in 1984. Joining Scotto for these productions were Sherrill Milnes and Siegmund Nimsgern as Scarpia with Giuliano Ciannella portraying Cavaradossi.

1993-94 

 
James Morris as Scarpia (L); Elizabeth Byrne and Kristján Jóhannsson (top R); Maria Guleghina and Tom Fox (bottom R)

After more than two decades of presenting the Hemphill production (including yet another revival during the 1989-90 season), Lyric presented a new Tosca directed by Frank  Galati with sets by Tony Walton and costumes by Willa Kim. Bruno Bartoletti conducted a dual cast that included Kristján Jóhannsson and Richard Leech (Cavaradossi), Elizabeth Byrne and Maria Guleghina (Tosca), and James Morris and Tom Fox as Scarpia. Morris was also starring as Wotan in Wagner's Die Walküre that season (part of Lyric's first complete Ring cycle, which was presented as one opera each season with the complete cycle in 1996). This production would also be revived in the 2000-01 season.

2004-05 

 
Clockwise from top L: Carlo Ventre and Doina Dimitriu; Te Deum scene;
Samuel Ramey and Dimitriu; Dimitriu and Neil Shicoff

For the company's 50th season, Tosca was one of the operas programmed that hearkened back to the company's very first season. However, instead of presenting a new production, Lyric reached back in operatic history to an important gem: the Franco Zeffirelli production revived by director John Cox (sets by Renzo Mongiardino and costumes by Marcel Escoffier) first seen in 1964 at London's Royal Opera House starring Maria Callas, who came out of semi-retirement to play Tosca. The performances were also dedicated to the memory of Tito Gobbi. Bruno Bartoletti conducted a cast that included Neil Shicoff and Carlo Ventre as Cavaradossi, Doina Dimitriu (Lyric debut) and Aprile Millo as Tosca, and Samuel Ramey making his role debut as Scarpia. 

2009-10 

 
Top: Deborah Voigt (far L) and Vladimir Galouzine (far R) in the execution scene; Bottom (L-R): James Morris; Voigt and Galouzine; Marco Berti; Lucio Gallo and Violeta Urmana

Lyric again would revive the Zeffirelli production, this time with direction from Garnett Bruce.  Deborah Voigt (Tosca), Vladimir Galouzine (Cavaradossi), and James Morris (Scarpia) starred in September & October. Morris was celebrating the 30th anniversary of his Lyric debut with these performances. In January,  Violeta Urmana, Marco Berti, and Lucio Gallo took over the respective roles.  In addition to dual casts, the conducting duties were split as well with music director Sir Andrew Davis leading the first cast (Voigt/Galouzine/Morris) and Stephen Lord the second (Urmana/Berti/Gallo).

Photo credits:

  • 1960 production credit Nancy Sorenson
  • 1962, 1964, 1971, and 1976 productions credit David H. Fishman
  • 1982 and 1987-88 productions credit Tony Romano
  • 1993-94 production credit Dan Rest
  • 2004-05 production credit Dan Rest & Robert Kusel (Te Deum scene)
  • 2009-10 production credit Dan Rest

 

A special invitation from THE MAGIC VICTROLA cast

The Magic Victrola is on stage at Lyric this Saturday, January 17 at 3pm for one performance only! Check out this special invitation to attend from its three stars: Caroline Heffernan, Logan Neuschaefer, and veteran Chicago actor Richard Henzel.

The cast of The Magic VictrolaCaroline Heffernan, Logan Neuschaefer, and Richard Henzel—invites you to attend this family-friendly performance on Saturday, January 17 at 3pm. Opera comes alive for one performance only! 

Why should you see this great production? Here's a few reasons why from Grandfather himself:

Hi, I'm Richard Henzel and I'm excited to be playing the role of the grandfather in a spectacular new production from Lyric Unlimited that has been created just for your kids—The Magic Victrola!

Like you, I love opera—the beautiful scenery and costumes, the passionate stories and exciting characters, and of course the magnificent singing. There's no greater thrill than being able to share my passion for this wonderful art form with the ones I love. That's why I'm so excited to be part of The Magic Victrola and the opportunity to experience it with you and your family.

This special new production brings together scenes from beloved operas in a way that will fill the children in your life with wonder and delight. It stars children who, perhaps like our young audience, don't know what to expect from opera - and just wait until the surprises start to unfold!

You'll hear favorite music from operas like The Magic Flute, The Marriage of Figaro, Carmen, and more—melodies we have all heard in cartoons and on television commercials—come to vivid life as performed by real-life opera stars and a live orchestra. The 60-minute show features sets, costumes, and fun pop-culture twists that will keep everyone engaged!

Plus, you'll be able to see every exciting detail up close through the help of six jumbo video screens throughout the opera house.

Spend a warm afternoon with us at the glorious Civic Opera House, and experience the magical thrill of opera classics this Saturday, January 17 at 3pm.

We look forward to seeing you there!

 

Photo credits:

  • Richard Henznel portrait credit Suzanne Plunkett
  • Caroline Heffernan portrait credit Brian McConkey
  • Logan Neuschaefer portrait credit Carin Silkaitis
  • The Magic Victrola set picture credit Andrew Cioffi / Lyric Opera of Chicago

 

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