Every four or five years almost since it was launched in Tucson in 1971, Arizona Opera has performed Puccini’s popular Italian melodrama “Tosca,” and Joseph Specter has an idea why: There’s just something about Puccini that is irresistible.

“Puccini and this work are always such a powerful combination of engaging people in opera,” said the Arizona Opera general director, who confessed the piece, which opens at Tucson Music Hall Saturday, Nov. 11, is one of his personal favorites.

“As a former baritone, I always dreamed of playing (Baron) Scarpia,” said Specter, who had an eight-year professional singing career before turning to the management side of the art form. “I think that’s why ‘Tosca’ might be my favorite.”

We asked Specter to give us three things we should look for in Arizona Opera’s production of “Tosca,” which will have two Tucson performances this weekend before moving on to Phoenix next week.

  • Power of the human voice: “The first thing to look for is the voice itself. We have these casts of magnificent artists who have these incredibly expressive instruments that are really going to bring this masterpiece to life. … I think Puccini’s music leads in this piece.”
  • The cast: “I think we have an exciting mix of artists, some of whom are well known to local audiences and some who are brand new. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention (baritone) Gordon Hawkins playing the villain Scarpia. He’s a magnificent singer who has put his stamp on these big, villainous roles. He has an international reputation with an Arizona connection; he lives in Phoenix.”
  • The acting: “Singing actors today who are in this art form are more than just a voice. For opera singers to be successful in the 21st century usually means their talents go well beyond the voice itself ... to create a really dramatic performance.”

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@tucson.com or 573-4642. On Twitter @Starburch

I cover music for the Arizona Daily Star.