Living in harmony

Among the opera personalities in town for Manitoba Opera’s production of Puccini’s famous Tosca, are husband and wife Richard Margison and Valerie Kuinka — the production’s tenor and director, respectively. Margison, who plays Cavaradossi in Tosca, and Kuinka met in Sault Ste. Marie in 1986, but their work has rarely brought them together professionally. As Margison said, “This is about the fifth time that we’ve worked together.”

While such an endeavour might generate tension in some relationships, Margison welcomes the opportunity to work with his wife. “I really enjoy Val’s input on things,” he said, “because she has a wonderful understanding of not only the opera, but also the music as well. She was a professional musician for years, before she fully went into directing opera.”

Both Margison and Kuinka have worked at length with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. “I’ve probably done about 160 performances there over the last 14 years,” said Margison. “Valerie was on the directing staff at the Metropolitan opera as well, so we both have a long-standing, wonderful affiliation with that company.” Margison has also worked with Manitoba Opera in the past. “It’s always great to be back here,” he said.

Margison and Kuinka are not the only opera notables involved in the production. Soprano Wendy Nielsen also has a long-standing relationship with the Metropolitan Opera and other companies across the continent. She plays the opera’s titular character, Tosca. Baritone Gaétan Laperrière, who plays Scarpia, the story’s villain, is another well-travelled opera veteran, having performed across the continent, including — you guessed it — at the Metropolitan Opera, and conductor Tyrone Patterson works with opera companies from Ottawa to Hong Kong.

Tosca, written by Giacomo Puccini and premiered in 1900, is one of the world’s most popular operas. According to Margison, this may be because of its realism. “It’s a credible story,” he said, “ and, I think, probably one of the more believable stories in opera.”

Based on the play La Tosca by Victorien Sardou, the opera is set in Rome during the time of Napoleon — 1800, specifically. It focuses on the characters Mario Cavaradossi, Floria Tosca and Baron Scarpia. “Like in much of opera, there’s the romantic duo,” said Margison, “and there’s always somebody who wants to steal away the soprano, in this case Tosca. Scarpia, of course, lies to her and tells her that he will let Cavaradossi go free if she makes the ultimate decision to sleep with him.”

The story is overtly political, a conflict between the rebel Cavaradossi and the authoritarian Baron Scarpia. Its events are set against a battle for control of Rome between Napoleon and the Austrian army. Cavaradossi, a painter, is a republican and supporter of the French, while Scarpia is on the side of the Neapolitans who ruled Rome at the time.

Margison, who has played the role of Cavaradossi before, explained what makes this character compelling: “He’s an interesting character in that he’s affiliated with sort of the underground — we’re working against Baron Scarpia,” he said. “He’s not only politically motivated, but he’s also a nobleman who has a wonderful talent for painting, and he’s really quite a deep character in many ways. There are many facets to his personality.”

Tosca has been one of the most popular operas around for over a century. As Margison said, “It’s full of love and betrayal. It’s great stuff.”

Tosca plays Nov. 20, 2010 at 8 p.m., Nov. 23 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 26 at 8 p.m.