Obscenity! Obloquy! Opera!

OTSL bows with Tosca

Talk about a bad day -- TV superagent Kiefer Sutherland's 24 hours have nothing on what Floria Tosca, the singing heroine of Puccini's erotic thriller of an opera, went through on Wednesday, June 17, 1800. Tosca's bad day begins with a jailbreak and heats up into jealousy, murder, sadism, treachery, torture, attempted rape and a couple of suicides. Critics have called Tosca everything from "a shabby little shocker" to "a prolonged orgy of lust and crime." No wonder it's one of the most beloved and often performed works of the opera repertory.

The opera premiered in 1900 and reflects the best musical elements of the centuries it straddles. Librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa chopped and tightened a melodrama written as a vehicle for Sarah Bernhardt. Giacomo Puccini added some of his most tuneful and emotional music. Though not as self-consciously modern as the work of some of Puccini's contemporaries (such as Stravinsky and Ravel), the score of this masterwork is as forthright and crisp as the best music of the early twentieth century, yet elegant and dramatic in the satisfying style of the nineteenth century.

This Saturday, Opera Theatre of St. Louis opens its 2003 season with what promises to be a remarkable staging of Puccini's finest opera. Tosca veteran Cynthia Lawrence, who has sung the part in Italian at New York's Metropolitan Opera, will end each performance with a spectacular leap from a fourteen-foot parapet. Tenor Stephen Mark Brown, who plays her lover, the artist and revolutionary Cavaradossi, will be cut down by a firing squad's thundering black-powder blast in a scene described by director Neil Peter Jampolis as "right out of a Goya painting." Mix in sex, politics and a full "bells and smells" Latin Te Deum, and there's a little something for everyone.

Tosca, like all OTSL productions, is sung in English. Evening performances are presented May 24, 28 and 30 and June 7, 10, 12, 21 and 25; matinees are held June 5, 18 and 28. All performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road (at Big Bend Boulevard). Call 314-961-0644 or visit www.opera-stl.org for tickets, priced from $20-$90. -- Lew Prince

Hollywood or Busk
Street performers come out at Westport

SAT 5/24

Whatever happened to street performers? The harmless juggler, the well-meaning mime and even the blameless balloon sculptor have all been forced into exile at nursing homes, hospitals, bar mitzvahs and birthday parties, it seems. They'd rarely see the light of day if it weren't for an event such as the annual Street Performers' Contest (7 p.m., Westport Plaza, I-270 and Page Avenue). The contest is free and family-oriented.

In a weird twist of fate and commercialism, Westport Plaza has become a refuge for street entertainers, who all have their tales from the asphalt jungle. "I was driving home from a gig one night. The cops seemed to have nothing better to do and said, 'Let's pull this clown over.' The next thing I know, I'm touching my [red] nose and trying to walk a straight line in oversized shoes," recalls contestant Bob Kelmer, alias Doodles the clown.

For event information, call 314-576-7100 or visit www.westportstl.com. -- Tom R. Arterburn

Flashdance of Our Fathers

WED 5/21

It's always interesting when a Bob Dylan, Mark Knopfler or John Zorn performs "Sim Shalom" at a benefit concert for a Jewish charity. "Oh," we say to ourselves, "I didn't realize Rush's Geddy Lee (or whoever) was Jewish." Well, you can add to the ranks Doug Cotler. Doug who? Doug Cotler is the guy who wrote the song "Manhunt" for the soundtrack to Flashdance. You remember Irene Cara's "Flashdance ... What a Feeling" and Michael Sembello's "Maniac"; "Manhunt" was the song (sung by Karen Kamon) that ushered in a new era of strippers' pulling cords to dump buckets of water on their bods midperformance -- remember now? Cotler's days of '80s synth-rock are behind him -- now he fuses traditional Jewish melodies with modern pop in shows such as the Cantor Ed Fogel Memorial Concert at Congregation Shaare Zedek (829 North Hanley Road, 7:30 p.m., $7.50-$12.50, 314-504-3302, sponsored by St. Louis Circle of Jewish Music). Cotler has met the challenge faced by Neil Diamond's character in The Jazz Singer: to straddle the worlds of rock and religion. Lay it down, bubbeleh. -- Byron Kerman

Jump, Jive and Wail
Black Dance USA festival

You don't know the meaning of "jam" until you've dance-jammed with the thunder of African drums pounding in your bones. Black Dance USA raises the roof at the Center of Contemporary Arts May 19-25 with some dance jams and instruction, too.

Sponsored by Better Family Life, the festival starts on Monday with dance classes for kids and pros alike, rounds the corner on Friday with a professional dance performance at Washington University's Edison Theatre (8 p.m.) and ends with a five-hour Dance Jam on Sunday at COCA (524 Trinity Avenue) from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

Master classes in West African, Caribbean, capoeira, Dunham, hip-hop, jazz and tap techniques, as well as song, percussion and even stiltwalking, will be taught by local and national dance greats including Shaka Zulu (not that one) and Clyde Evans Jr. The nationally celebrated Cleo Parker Robinson Dance of Denver (above) will perform "One Nation Under a Groove" on Friday at the Edison Theatre. The company is known for preserving the best of black dance in America and for offering new works.

The full package of classes, lectures and jams runs $90-$243. Separate Edison concert prices cost $15 to $20 at door. Call 314-367-3440 for more information. -- Regina Popper

 
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