The chorus relaxes for a moment during a recent
Photo by Shan Cousrouf
Sharie Pike for the Billings Outpost
Don’t for one minute believe that in “the good old
days” the theater avoided violence. In Rimrock
Opera’s spring production of Puccini’s “Tosca,” look
for torture, suicide and murder.
opened in Rome on Jan. 14, 1900, to indifferent
reviews, and, in 1956, Joseph Kerman called it a
“shabby little shocker.” However, more than a
century of enthralled opera aficionados have loved
it. Though the famous Enrico Caruso didn’t perform
for the premiere, Cavaradossi became one of his
“Tosca” employs a cast of more
than 120. Soprano Cassandra Norville sings the title
role of Floria Tosca. Jeffrey Kitto plays her young
lover, the painter Mario Cavaradossi.
Rounding out the doomed triangle is heroic baritone
Douglas Nagel, playing the wicked Scarpio. Mr. Nagel
is also the artistic director and producer of
The score of “Tosca” demands much
of each performer, even chorus members. Puccini
composed the opera in one piece, meaning that one
aria, duet or chorus often segues into the next with
little or no musical interlude.
In keeping with
Rimrock Opera tradition of staging one of its two
operas per year in the original language, this
year’s “Tosca” is sung in the original Italian. An
English translation scrolls across the screen over
the stage at Alberta Bair Theater.
“We want as
many community people as possible,” said Mr. Nagel.
“It’s a chance to improve your singing and learn
another language. That’s especially important for
All the stars, even in
rehearsal, could trill their Italian R’s while
singing. Those R’s are always difficult for native
English speakers, but they added one more delightful
embellishment to the music.
While the star
performers wow the audience with their talent and
training, the chorus provides both backup and even
stage decoration. The chorus is an opportunity for
anyone to be a part of the opera. Auditions take
place twice a year for major performances.
Chorus member Janie Rife joined Rimrock Opera two
years ago for the production of “Carmen.” She is
studying vocal performance at Rocky Mountain
“I like classical things,” she said.
“And I love the connection with history.” Ms. Rife
Nate Piptak, a tenor, is a
senior at Montana State University Billings. “I
started out with the Chamber Singers (at MSU
Billings), and auditioned for ‘Carmen.’ I’ve been
with it ever since. If you love to sing, I’d
recommend it. You grow as a singer and it’s just so
“Tosca” has attracted some
newcomers as well. “This is my first opera. It’s
just great! An awesome experience,” said Karla
Stricker, 33. “You don’t have to have lots of
training to sing in the chorus. The only thing I had
was high school chorus and a little bit in college.
I do sing with the church choir and help out with it
Mike and Shelly Ryan are seasoned
veterans. They became interested when their daughter
joined ROCK, Rimrock Opera Chorus for Kids.
“I like opera,” said Mike. “I like the stories, and
it’s totally different from what I usually do.”
Shelly agreed. “We like the music, and you
become like a family. Rehearsal time revolves around
how much the chorus is needed. Sometimes it’s every
night. This one is just two nights a week. The leads
The Ryans roped their friend, Debra
Gloor, into trying out this spring. “I auditioned
and got in. I think singing with this group is a
delight,” she said. “There are so many strong
singers. It’s the first time I’ve sung in a foreign
language, so that’s been fun, too.”
the volunteers tread the boards. Dodie Rife
volunteered with the opera when her daughter Janie
joined, more to keep an eye on her than anything
else. To keep busy, she helped with props and found
she had a talent for it. She’s now a paid employee.
“I’m in charge of all the props and of finding
things,” she said. “It’s very, very enjoyable, but
very challenging. I love it!”
Just a little
more than two weeks before the performance, she’d
found a brown portfolio. “I’ll take out the plastic
flaps inside and dull up the outside.”
“Tosca,” 110 to 120 costumes were made to measure by
a source out of state. They arrived three weeks
before performance, but sometimes costume director
Loretta Wittmer has less time to get ready.
“They’re all made to order and come with the
person’s name on it,” she said. “We fit everyone.
Sometime I have to take them in or let them out. I’m
also in charge of jewelry.” Since all the costumes
must be returned, none of the alterations is
permanent. As the costume director, Ms. Wittmer is
also responsible for getting the entire wardrobe to
the Alberta Bair and then shipping costumes back
after the final curtain.
“This is my fourth
opera, and I love it. I’ve met a lot of nice people
and it’s a lot of fun,” she said.
love it, too. “Tosca” plays at the Alberta Bair on
Saturday, April 30, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 1,
at 3 p.m. Tickets range in price from $21 to $46 for
adults and $11 to 18.50 for students. Call the box
office at 256-6052 for reservations.