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An opera company that has staged musical works around Western New York on a small scale for 15 years will attempt to fill the void left by the demise of the Greater Buffalo Opera Company.

Opera Unlimited will move up several rungs on the ambition ladder with Puccini's "Tosca," scheduled Oct. 20 and 22 in Rockwell Hall at Buffalo State College.

Expected to cost $40,000, this undertaking will present a stiff fiscal as well as artistic challenge, admits Zadie Amorosi, vice president and marketing director.

But Amorosi believes Buffalo's core opera audience, numbering 2,000 to 2,500 people, will help fill the 850-seat hall for both performances.

Ever since Greater Buffmac mac html conv alo Opera fell on its sword after a money-losing production of "The Flying Dutchman" at Shea's Performing Arts Center three years ago, opera buffs have been forced to travel to Hamilton, Ont., Toronto, Cleveland, Montreal and other venues to satisfy their craving.

A group called Opera Niagara was formed a year ago by Shea's and former Greater Buffalo Opera Company board members to present visiting productions at the Main Street showplace, but is unlikely to produce its own operas anytime soon.

But Opera Unlimited aims to prove it doesn't take the Three Tenors to put on a worthy show.

"We have the local and regional talent," Amorosi said.

For the title role in "Tosca," Opera Unlimited founder and Artistic Director Tim Kennedy has selected spinto soprano Shinea Lee, an Amherst resident who recently received her master's degree from the Eastman School of Music. She has performed as a soloist in Verdi's "Requiem" at Rochester's Eastman Theatre.

Bryan Jackson, a Rochester native who has performed with the Washington Opera and New York City Opera, will sing the role of the sinister Scarpia. Jackson is schedule to perform in "Falstaff" in Rome this fall.

Mark Gizzi-Schmidt, a native of North Tonawanda, has been cast as Cavaradossi. He holds a master's in opera from the State University at Binghamton and has performed extensively with the Opera Theatre of Rochester and Tri-City Opera in Binghamton.

A 26-chair orchestra will be conducted by Paul Stuart, artistic director of the Irondequoit Festival Orchestra and composer of operas and orchestra, chamber and choral music. Tom Witkowski will directing the adult chorus and Frank Scinta the children's chorus.

Kennedy, who will direct "Tosca," launched Opera Unlimited in 1985 and has since staged a dozen productions, will direct "Tosca." He holds a master's in music and theater from the University at Buffalo and has performed and taught music at all levels.

Andrea Pope is president of the Opera Unlimited board. Evelyn Gibb is secretary and Melvin Schrader treasurer. Other board members are James Mullenhoff, Roy DeFrancis and Barbara Maira.

The decision to tackle Puccini's venerable work was made just four months ago, and there is a shortage of sponsors and volunteers, but Opera Unlimited will meet the challenge, Amorosi said.

After the GBOC debacle, "I understand peoples' reluctance" to get behind another opera company, she said.

But she thinks that unfortunate chapter should be put to rest, starting with "Tosca."

"This is now. This is here. And it's coming together," she said. "This can be a wonderful event."

The curtain will rise at 8 p.m. on Oct. 20 and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 22. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for seniors and students, and can be reserved by calling 656-9466.

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