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Nickel City Opera gambling on a masterpiece said to be cursed

Staging any opera is a perilous proposition. It’s expensive and complicated. But Nickel City Opera, presenting Puccini’s beautiful “Tosca” on Friday and Sunday , faces an extra challenge.

“Tosca” is considered cursed.

“If you go on the web at all and research the history of opera, no opera has had more terrible bad things happen,” said Valerian Ruminski, Nickel City Opera’s executive director.

“It’s fraught with moments that can be done badly to hilarious and bad effect. The jumping,” he said, alluding to the moment at the end of the opera when Floria Tosca, the heroine, leaps to her death. He also mentioned the dramatic moment when Tosca blows out candles. “I’m making sure we don’t use electric candles.” Electric candles can mistakenly stay lit.

And any time a scene involves a firing squad, which the last scene of “Tosca” does, that opens the door to all kinds of other mishaps.

There are lots of urban legends surrounding “Tosca” mishaps but here are a few that really happened.

1. In 1965 at the Metropolitan Opera, Maria Callas, as Tosca, was confronting the villain Scarpia, played in that particular production by Tito Gobbi. Her hair caught fire from the candelabra. He deftly put it out, making it look as if it was part of the fight, and luckily the disruption was minimal. Gobbi wrote in his memoirs that when Tosca was supposed to be stabbing him, she whispered, “Grazie!”

2. Once, Callas mistakenly did stab Gobbi for real. The knife was supposed to retract, but it didn’t.

3. In the 1970s at the Vienna State Opera, Russian soprano Galina Vishnevskaya had the same thing happen to her. Her wig caught fire – but after she had killed Scarpia. To the audience’s astonishment and delight, the dead villain sat up and lunged at her, putting out the fire and saving her from injury.

4. In 1965, in Rome, tenor Gianni Riamondi was burned by one of the bullets used in the firing squad scene.

5. At the Met in 1999, Eva Marton was playing Tosca. Leaping to her death at the end of the opera, she landed, as planned, on a feather mattress backstage. But the mattress exploded, and when she came out for her bows, she was covered in feathers.

These instances, along with other gory details, are widely chronicled around the Internet and in books. For starters we suggest “Puccini’s Tosca: A Short Guide to a Great Opera,” by Michael Steen.

Nickel City Opera presents “Tosca” at 8 p.m. Friday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Riviera Theatre, 65 Webster St., North Tonawanda. (Tickets are $20-$49; call 692-2413.)

Don’t tell them to break a leg.

They just might!


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