Q & A: Daniel Sutin on ‘Tosca,’ COVID-19 & the Northern Lights Music Festival

By Francisco Salazar

On July 17, the Northern Lights Music Festival will open its socially distanced production of Puccini’s “Tosca.” It will mark the first U.S staged opera production since the March lockdown due to COVID-19.

The festival has lined up an all-star cast, which will include acclaimed baritone Daniel Sutin, who will take on the role of Scarpia. Sutin, who is well known for his interpretations of Wagner, Puccini, and Verdi’s works, has performed at some of the world’s greatest theaters including the Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera House, Odyssey Opera, Savonlinna Opera Festival, and Lyric Opera of Chicago.

In anticipation of the opening of “Tosca,” Sutin spoke with OperaWire about the Northern Lights Music Festival, Scarpia, and the pandemic.

OperaWire: How have you been during this pandemic? What has it been like for you to not be able to get on a stage and have so much work canceled?

Daniel Sutin: During the pandemic, it has been hard not knowing when we will be back to work. So I have been singing at home and I was preparing Scarpia and Rigoletto. As it turned out “Rigoletto” at Opera North in New Hampshire will be postponed until next summer.

OW: When did you get contacted about the “Tosca” with the Northern Lights and what was your first reaction?

DS: When I received this offer from the Northern Lights Music Festival to do the great role of Scarpia in “Tosca,” I was both honored and thrilled. I had covered the title role of Wozzeck at The Metropolitan Opera in December and January, which I had jumped in at the Met in the title role in 2014 and the Alberich in the Ring at Lyric Opera of Chicago. So it was a welcome chance to do Italian, which is like medicine for the voice. However,  I try to sing German like Italian.

OW: What does it mean to get back on stage after three months of not performing?

DS: It is so beautiful having the chance to sing again, having been inside at home for all these three months. I feel so honored and lucky that I could start singing again in these challenging times.

OW: Tell me about your travel experience getting to the festival?

DS: I took an airplane from JFK to Chisholm, Minnesota. My travel experience worked out pretty well to my surprise. We all had to wear masks and follow the CDC rules. I felt safe knowing they were taking all these precautions.

OW: Tell me about the first reaction getting back on stage? What are the safety regulations that the festival is taking with the artists?

DS: When I got back on stage I felt I could continue my singing and performing again. In this production, which works very well, we must wear masks and keep socially distant.  The excellent director Chia Patino has adapted Tosca in a wonderful way. She is a pleasure to work with and the festival is testing us regularly to be safe.

OW: How will the physicality between Tosca and Scarpia play out? What have you learned about the character while doing this production?

DS: It is set in a South American country where Scarpia is portrayed as a dictator. I have some moments when I have to stand behind Tosca, but generally, the concept is true to the original text. A police chief bloodthirsty, enjoying the thought of Angelotti and Cavaradossi hanging in the gallows and Tosca in his arms. I have learned that Scarpia thinks he has won, until he is suddenly killed by the least suspecting person Tosca.

In this Production, I have learned that you can change the staging and keep the integrity of the story. It is quite amazing! I am still in “Tosca” despite the changes because of Covid-19. It is really a miracle and the undying artistic faith of the Northern Lights Music Festival.

OW: The majority of the U.S companies have canceled their fall and summer seasons. The Northern Lights Festival is taking a risk in presenting this and actually giving audiences a chance to see opera. Do you think other companies can take something away from this festival’s experiment? Do you think companies should find ways to perform in experimental fashions?

DS: I think other American Opera companies can do a similar thing. The only problem is the financials. I think once things go back to normal, you will have a resurgence of people who have missed the live experience of opera. I know I have so badly missed it.

I think companies could also do smaller venue recitals, oratorios with staging and operas. In this way maybe singers can once again perform what we love to do.

I want to end by thanking Artistic Director Veda Zoponcic and Music Director Gavriel Heine conductor of our Tosca, of Northern Lights Music Festival. Their great work and kindness in seeing this great challenge and vision made this all happen.


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