February 21, 2022

Finding New Layers: A conversation with director Louisa Muller

Tosca is of course one of the most-beloved, most- performed works in the repertoire. Is it challenging to bring new energy to it?

The opera certainly has an iconic performance history, and certain performance expectations from an audience, many of whom are not seeing it for the first time. But I always like to think about all the people who are seeing it for the first time, and try to look at any piece with fresh eyes myself. With a work as brilliant as Tosca, you can excavate new layers every time you come back to it. And as an audience member, you can as well. My hope is that you come and you get caught up in the storytelling of it and the immediacy of it. One of the things that’s so special about Tosca itself is the tight pacing. There isn’t any excess fat. So even if you’ve seen it before, you find yourself drawn in.

You yourself have a long history with the work.

Tosca is my mother’s favorite opera. It feels like something I always knew in some way, because of hearing it on the record player quite a lot as a child. And I’ve worked on several productions of it. I directed it this season once already, at Opera Colorado. I directed a new production for Wolf Trap Opera in 2017, and worked on John Caird’s production in 2010 in Houston.

And it’s still exciting to direct?

There is something about Tosca in particular that keeps bringing me back. One of the things that it’s really about, is the way people are able to keep hopeful in a totally hopeless situation. Although Tosca has been given so much evidence that she cannot trust Scarpia, and that things are unlikely to turn out well, she still holds onto hope because that’s the only way she can survive. That is something that we respond to so much in the audience. We keep hoping that somehow they’re going to get out of the situation.

And also, in this case, because Michelle Bradley is doing her very first Tosca, it will be particularly exciting.

It’s her Lyric Opera debut as well. What is it like to work with a singer in that situation?

Incredible. Getting to meet someone in their role debut is always a thrill because they’re bringing something totally new. There’s no baggage from the last time they did it. It’s an opportunity to explore and make discoveries together. I’m sure, after this, Michelle will sing Tosca many times. And to be there for the first time is always exciting.

Speaking of firsts, this is also your first chance to collaborate with Eun Sun Kim.

I’ve really been looking forward to it. The relationship between a director and a conductor in rehearsal is a very special one that makes a huge impact on any performance. And I am particularly looking forward to the all-too-rare joy of collaborating with another woman in that role.

This opera is obviously a woman’s story, but it’s a great deal more than that.

I really reject the narrative of Tosca that it’s about a woman undone by the fatal flaw of jealousy, which is often the way that it’s talked about. It’s about two people, two artists, simply trying to live their lives according to their own ideals—and about how they behave in a really extreme situation. Tosca herself is not even particularly political. And certainly it’s important to me that near the beginning of Act One we see that she’s very playful. She and Caravadossi have a joyful, adult relationship, which is different from a lot of relationships portrayed on stage. They really know each other and they have a real relationship and they’re just living their lives as artists.

For Tosca, the only way that she can keep her ideals intact is by betraying another ideal. Essentially, in order to protect herself, she has to kill. And as a very religious character, that moment of choosing to kill Scarpia really changes her, and changes who she is.

What’s your impression of working at Lyric Opera?

I have a really special relationship with the house and with the city. It feels like one of my artistic homes, certainly. I assisted on a couple of shows back in 2009, and then I came back. I directed Bohème in 2012. I remounted Butterfly a couple of times, and I’ve been there for Carmen. I’ll be there next season to open 2022-23 with Ernani, with Enrique Mazzola. Lyric has such a strong audience history. I find that the people who love Lyric love it so deeply. It’s wonderful to come back.

March 12 – April 10, 2022



A diva who has all of Rome at her feet. A woman who takes charge of her life and fights for what she wants. A heroine who is brave and loving, extravagantly emotional, yet utterly irresistible. Floria Tosca is all these things. She’s loved by Mario Cavaradossi, the revolutionary, and lusted after by Baron Scarpia, Rome’s vicious police chief. Puccini’s lushly grand-scale music illuminates these characters, and the entire opera bursts with a theatricality that makes Tosca a favorite of audiences everywhere.

Photos: Ken Howard/San Diego Opera, Simon Pauly