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Pacific Opera Project (POP) set itself an enormous challenge with its site-specific production of Puccini's Tosca,. This scrappy and inventive company, which  has made its name performing affordable opera in non-traditional spaces, might easily have found its artistic aspirations outstripped by the plan's complex logistical requirements. Beyond the normal difficulties in putting together any production of this magnitude, the group had to find a venue with all it needed (St. James United Methodist Church), and separate migration paths would have to be devised for the orchestra and the audience between each act.

Then there is the fact that only Shakespeare’s Macbeth boasts more production horror stories than Tosca. But I can happily report that there were no under-rehearsed firing squads aiming at the wrong principal and no bouncing divas. What the audience did experience was a strongly cast, well-directed, traditional production of the opera with the added adventure of visiting the church's nave, theater, and courtyard for each respective act.

Brian Cheney makes a dashing Cavaradossi, and his robust tenor squillo in “Recondita armonia” sets a high vocal bar at the top of the opera for the rest of the cast. Cheney sings with passionate conviction throughout the opera and is believable as both the lover and the revolutionary. In fact, the love scenes with Tosca have a comfortable reality that is unprecedented in my viewings of the opera.

Saira Frank proves a refreshingly youthful Tosca. Her expressive, warm-toned soprano easily manages Puccini's rangy vocal line. Her acting in the first act is less the mercurial diva and more the woman in love than one typically sees. But, if there are any concerns about Frank's ability to rise to the dramatic demands of the second act, her steely determination in the fatal confrontation with Scarpia erases them completely. Her “Vissi d'arte” is elegantly phrased and moving.

Patrick Blackwell's sonorous, dark-hued baritone commands the stage as the treacherous police chief, Scarpia. Dramatically, he plays the single-minded thug rather than the refined, Machiavellian villain, but he makes his points. In smaller roles, E. Scott Levin's fussy Sacristan and Ryan Thorn's sympathetic Angelotti make you wish Puccini gave them more to do.

Director/Set Designer Josh Shaw deserves commendation for simply getting the show up and running smoothly. But he also directs the opera with clarity and an eye for expressive detail. The one exception is the interlude before Cavaradossi is brought in during the final act when, at least from my vantage point, nothing seems to be happening. Music Director, Stephen Karr marshals his 22-piece orchestra for a taut and exciting reading of the score.

POP's  next production will be a re-mount of their hipster La Boheme in December. It's a production I missed the first time around, but won't make that mistake again.

St. James United Methodist Church   September 19 – 28, 2014




Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.