The Philadelphia Inquirer

Opera Philadelphia’s long-planned season finale Tosca at the Academy of Music has been scrapped, to be replaced by a slimmed down version of the opera at the Mann Center.

Like most arts venues, the Academy remains closed during the pandemic. Rather than losing the Puccini favorite entirely, the opera company commissioned a new 90-minute adaptation dubbed The Drama of Tosca with the cast reduced to just three singing characters.

This Tosca, however, will add one thing most concerts in the past year have lacked: a live audience.

“Obviously, we know that outdoor is far safer than in, so we identified the Mann as a way to salvage Tosca and the important company and role debuts” of the singers, said David Levy, Opera Philadelphia’s vice president of artistic operations.

The production signals a resumption of classical concerts at the Mann for the first time since the pandemic shutdown. The Philadelphia Orchestra, which recorded some of its Digital Stage performances there without an audience, has yet to announce details of its Mann season. But the ensemble does expect to return to the Fairmount Park venue this spring and summer for concerts before a live crowd, an orchestra spokesperson said.

Safety protocols for Opera Philadelphia’s The Drama of Tosca, which is slated for May 5, 7, and 9, dictate an experience much-reduced in many respects. The company followed recent outdoor performances in Sunbelt cities for guidance.

There will be no lawn seating, no intermission, and no concession stands. Listeners will be spaced six feet from each other in all directions, except for small groups which may choose to sit together in pods. Masks are required the entire time. Attendance is limited to a fraction of capacity — just 500 listeners in a facility that, in non-pandemic times, can comfortably accommodate nearly 11,000 under cover and on the lawn.

Still, even with restrictions, many patrons are no doubt eager to return to live listening. Opera Philadelphia’s last performance before the pandemic shutdown was a Verdi Requiem in January and February 2020. A company spokesperson said the troupe has not performed at the Mann before. The Drama of Tosca will also be available on demand online via the Opera Philadelphia Channel this summer.

This new version of the opera, by Italian stage director Francesco Micheli, will be done concert style — no sets or costumes. The music is abridged. To help stitch together the story, a narrator has been added. In its new form, the piece now ends with the famous “Vissi d’arte” aria.

An orchestra of about 65 players will be on stage with a 40-voice chorus in the balcony, all led by conductor Corrado Rovaris.

Also surviving from the original production are soprano Ana María Martínez as Tosca and baritone Quinn Kelsey as Scarpia in their company and role debuts. Tenor Brian Jagde makes his company debut as Cavaradossi.

Opera Philadelphia is currently working to reseat patrons who held tickets for the Academy production, and expects to open sales next month for a limited number of remaining seats. With lower capacity, the company forecasts covering only about 5% of its costs through ticket sales (about 20% is normal).

And so, taking a page from sports teams, fans donating $100 can see cutout images of themselves placed in empty seats, and may pick up the cutouts to keep after The Drama of Tosca closes.

“This raises money to help get artists back on stage,” said opera spokesperson Frank Luzi, “and it’s also a way to make the place feel a little less empty.”