When Giacomo Puccini’s “shabby little shocker” comes to the stage of the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts this weekend, baritone Scott Hendricks will be singing a familiar role as the villain of the piece.
A 1994 graduate from LSU in music education, Hendricks takes on the role of the evil Roman police chief, Baron Scarpia, in Puccini’s “Tosca” for the sixth time since 2008.
As the final production of the New Orleans Opera Association’s 2015-16 Season. “Tosca” opens at 8 p.m. Friday and returns at 2:30 p.m. Sunday for a matinee
Performed numerous times in the local opera company’s 73-year history, “Tosca” is set in the early 19th century during the Napoleonic Era, roughly a century before Puccini composed it. Against a backdrop of intrigue and treachery, the fiery but tender-hearted singer, Floria Tosca, is unwittingly caught in the middle of a political tug-of-war between the pro- and anti-Napoleon forces contending for control over the weak self-governing Italian provinces.
To save the life of her patriotic lover, Mario Cavaradossi, Tosca must agree to give herself over to Scarpia’s lust. However, after securing a promise that Cavaradossi will be spared the firing squad, “Tosca’s kiss” for the sinister police chief is a knife thrust to the heart. But the violence and treachery doesn’t end with Scarpia’s death.
Instead of blanks being placed in the rifles of the firing squad as promised, Scarpia had given secret instructions to have real bullets inserted. Horrified over her lover’s death and with Scarpia’s henchmen in hot pursuit, Tosca leaps to her death from the wall of Castel Sant’Angelo.
Filled with memorable arias — especially Tosca’s “Vissi d’arte” (I live for my art) — and emotionally touching duets, plus a resounding orchestral score, “Tosca” consistently ranks in the Top 5 of the most frequently performed operas in the world.
Hendricks, who made his professional debut as Papageno in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” with the now-defunct Baton Rouge Opera in 1994, has made a specialty of singing the roles of some of the most heinous villains in the standard operatic repertoire. In addition to Scarpia, he has also sung the Giuseppe Verdi-composed roles of Iago in “Otello,” Germont in “La Traviata” and the title role in “Macbeth.”
Hendricks is comfortable singing the roles of the bad guys. “That’s pretty much my bread and butter,” he said. “And I’m going to do ‘Sweeney Todd’ right after this. The villains have paid my mortgage for several years now.”
Although specializing in the standards of the Italian repertoire, Hendricks also has sung in works composed in French, German and Russian. He has performed in some of the world’s most prestigious opera houses, including New York’s Metropolitan Opera, London’s Covent Garden, Paris National Opera, Houston Grand Opera and Washington National Opera under the baton of Placido Domingo. He estimates that 90 percent of his engagements are in Europe.
Making his New Orleans Opera debut, Hendricks is no stranger to the city itself, having sung here on a number of occasions with the LSU choir during his undergraduate years. But after being away from Louisiana from the late 1990s until recently, he is happy to be returning.
“I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to be back in Louisiana,” Hendricks said. “New Orleans has just been overwhelming to me in a positive way that was instrumental in my becoming the musician I am today. It really means the world to me to be able to sing Scarpia, a role I know really well, with New Orleans Opera, and I’m looking forward to a wonderful time here.”
Others in major roles in the production are sung by Jennifer Rowley as Tosca, Noah Stewart as Cavaradossi, Casey Candebat as Spoletta, Spencer Reichman as Sciarrone, Ivan Griffin as Cesare Angelotti, Justin Lee Miller as the Sacristan and Aaron Ambeau as the Jailer.
Robert Lyall conducts the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, Carroll Freeman is the stage director, and Carol Rausch directs the New Orleans Opera Chorus. “Tosca” is sung in Italian with English translations projected above the stage.
Sunday brunches, for an extra charge, are served in two sittings on Sunday in the theater’s mezzanine section.