In 2009, the Sarasota Opera staged Giacomo Puccini's "Tosca." It was a huge hit with audiences, thanks in large part to performances by Kara Shay Thomson as Tosca and Rafael Davila as Cavaradossi.
It was the first time either of them had performed those roles. Now, six years later, "Tosca" is back at the Sarasota Opera, and Thomson and Davila are back in the leading roles. They both bring much more experience to their characters
"Kara Shay will be performing the role of Tosca for the 100th time sometime during our run," said Richard Russell, the executive director of the Sarasota opera. "Rafael has played Cavaradossi 80 times. People will see the difference. I can see and hear a difference. They really own those roles."
Tosca opened the Sarasota Opera's Winter Festival season Saturday. It runs through March 28, in rotation with other productions.
Thomson has become something of a Tosca specialist since 2009, Russell said. Davila has become a star of the opera world, maintaining a hectic performance schedule in variety of roles.
Both are familiar to Sarasota Opera audiences, even if they missed "Tosca" in 2009. Thomson was last here in the lead role in "Vanessa" in 2012, and Davila starred in "Otello" in 2011.
Tosca is, along with "Madama Butterfly" and "La Boheme," one of Puccini's most famous operas.
One aspect of its appeal is that it's fact-based even while it's exceedingly dramatic and operatic.
"You can isolate the exact day and time that it takes place," Russell said. "It has this historical source, and it takes place in actual places in Rome. You can visit them today."
Those Roman landmarks were re-created in a spectacular set by David Gordon that helped makes that 2009 staging so exciting. It's back for this production.
Besides a compelling story, "Tosca" is full of music that's familiar even to people who never go to the opera.
"This is one where you'll absolutely be humming the music on your way out," Russell said.
Also coming up in this winter season are Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro," a story of class struggle that was considered radical in its day -- and still retains its relevance -- Giuseppi Verdi's "Don Carlos" and Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "The
That opera's seldom
staged these days, Russell said, though it was frequently staged in the 1920s and '30s. In fact, he believes this is the first American production since the 1970s.
"I have heard that another company is planning to do it next year," he said. "So maybe its time has come again."
While this winter season is just getting started, the Sarasota opera Thursday announced its 2015-16 schedule.
It's a significant one for the company, as it will complete its Verdi cycle that began in 1989. In that time, the Sarasota Opera has produced every Verdi opera that is available. It is, at least according to opera officials, the only company in the world that has ever done that.
The 2015-16 season kicks off in the fall with "La Boheme" and Hans Krasa's "Brunidbar" performed by the Sarasota Youth Opera.
The Winter Festival season features two Verdi works, "Aida" and "The Battle of Legnano," plus two concerts devoted to Verdi works, Mozart's "Cosi Fan Tutti" and Beethoven's "Fidelio."
"These next two seasons," Russell said, "are going to be huge for us."
Details: Through March 27 (in rotation), Sarasota Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 10, 18 and 26, March 8, 14, 17 and 25; 1:30 p.m. Feb. 15, March 3, 22 and 28. Tickets:$19-$135. Information: 941-328-1300, sarasotaopera.org.