Piedmont Opera will open its 39th season with a sweeping story of the original opera diva, Tosca, one of Puccini’s most dramatically compelling operas in repertoire. The production opens on Friday, October 28th at 8:00 p.m., Sunday, October 20th at 2:00 p.m. and on Tuesday, November 1st at 7:30 p.m. at the Stevens Center of the UNCSA in Winston-Salem.
The story of Tosca centers around opera singer Floria Tosca, who is in love with the painter Mario Cavaradossi. The evil Baron Scarpia, who is also the Roman Chief of Police, desires Tosca as well. Scarpia’s devious plot to possess her involves political intrigue and deception. Tosca’s dream of love is shattered by Scarpia, and in one of the most famous endings in opera, she leaps to her death as the curtain falls.
The role of Tosca requires a dramatic soprano who has a big, luxurious voice. The company did not have to recruit from across the country, which it regularly does, for its mainstage productions. Instead, one of the leading Italianate sopranos in the country can be found locally in Forsyth County. Living in Kernersville is American soprano Jill Gardner, who specializes in Puccini’s heroines like Madama Butterfly and Manon Lascaut. The role of Tosca is, however, considered to be her signature role. The Grand Rapids Press described her as “breathtaking, both for the music and for the performance … Gardner sang a full-bodied performance with magnificent projection, a lyrico spinto, a Puccini girl though and through.” The Charlotte Observer declared that “there doesn’t seem to be anything standing between her and Puccini’s heroines.”
Mrs. Gardner grew up in Tobaccoville and studied Italian during her graduate studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She traveled to the Tuscany region to enhance her dialect. She has sung in opera houses around the country, including the Lyric Opera in Chicago and the Washington National Opera in Washington, D.C., but singing for her hometown opera company is one of career highlights.
As luck would have it, Jill isn’t the only international opera singer who lives in Kernersville. Her husband, bass-baritone Jake Gardner, boasts a career which includes performances with major opera companies and orchestras throughout North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Jake remains one of the opera world’s most sought-after singing actors. He will sing the role of the evil Scarpia, whose character is considered one of the most despicable characters in opera history.
“We are so excited that Jill and Jake will both return to the Piedmont Opera stage this fall,” said Mariedith Appanaitis, Director of Marketing at Piedmont Opera. “Since they travel six to eight months out of the year for work, this opera-power couple could live anywhere in the world, so the Triad is very fortunate they prefer the small town charm of Kernersville.
“We love calling this community HOME,” Jill said. “We like to say we live half in the country and half in the city,” “Our favorite restaurants are Smitty’s Grill, Bistro B and J Peppers and we adore the Ceiner Botanical Gardens.” Although the couple has worked in fascinating cities across the country and around the world, they love the fact that when they come home they can leave the hustle and bustle behind. “We can be anywhere in the Piedmont Triad within 15 minutes and yet can also feel “off the grid,” Jill said.
Maestro James Allbritten, General Manager and Artistic Director of Piedmont Opera, will conduct The Winston-Salem Symphony Orchestra for the three performances. The production will be directed by Steve LaCosse, Managing Director of the A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute at the UNCSA.