Saturday, November 6, 2010

Double Date: Buona sera, baby


With its tale of betrayal, political intrigue, passion, and a conflict between the powerful and the powerless, it’s no wonder that the story behind Italian composer Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca’’ has made it one of the most enduring and popular operas since its premiere in 1900. Over time it’s been adapted into a number of different settings, including the original Napoleonic period, Nazi Germany, and a more contemporary Mafia scenario. But for the Boston Lyric Opera’s production, Mussolini’s Italy provides the backdrop for the drama.

“The story is about what do you do when you find yourself in a political system where human dignity is impossible, and how do you get out of it and defend yourself,’’ says the BLO’s director Esther Nelson. In the story, the singer Tosca is forced to choose between saving the life of her lover and a horrible offer she can’t refuse from the brutal government. The conflict of the story is part of what makes it continually appealing, says Nelson. “This is such relevant human drama, and people on a daily basis around the world are being put in that kind of position where they can’t get out of it with dignity.’’

Bringing the story forward in history helps establish a more visceral connection to modern audiences.

“How do we make it relevant to an audience that sits comfortably after a nice dinner and a couple of glasses of wine?’’ asks Nelson. “You want to make it feel that it could happen to anyone in different circumstances. You want to bridge that somehow so it doesn’t seem so far away and tucked away.’’

“Tosca’’ opens tonight at 7:30 at the Boston Lyric Opera at the Shubert Theatre, 265 Tremont St., Boston. 617-542-4912.

Hmmm. What goes well with an Italian opera? Fortunately, near the Shubert, the options are plentiful. Just up Tremont Street at Teatro, you might consider a quick bite of cheese pumpkin and lobster arancinis coupled with one of their Prosecco-based cocktails, or a glass from their broad range of Italian wines. Around the corner at Bina Osteria, the restaurant’s lounge area is perfect for cozy pre- or post-show drinks or dinner as well. Chef Azita Bina-Seibel’s cuisine, drawn from all regions of Italy, offers options like strozzapreti with mushrooms, fresh ricotta, spinach, pancetta, and rabbit ragout.
It’s cuisine people are comfortable with, she says. “It’s very flexible, easy, simple cooking. Italian plates are simpler, three or four different ingredients, not like French food that involves a lot of steps and a lot of involvement.’’ Fortunately, the same can’t be said of Italian opera.

Teatro, 177 Tremont St., Boston. 617-778-6841.; Bina Osteria, 581 Washington St., Boston. 617-956-0888.

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