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Rising Above, with Stern and the BLO

Conductor David Stern describes the unusual challenges – and inventive solutions – of the Boston Lyric Opera's new production of Puccini's “Tosca.”

What do you do when an orchestra is too big for the space they’re supposed to play in? Get creative. David Stern discusses the BLO's outside-the-box new production of Tosca with WCRB’s Chris Voss, as well as his passion for Puccini, and his approach to conducting operas old and new.

Now entering a 41st season that launches with Tosca (Oct. 13-22, at the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre), the Boston Lyric Opera is both the longest-running and largest professional opera company in New England. They are also an opera company without a home, having cut ties with the Shubert Theater in 2015 after nearly 20 years in residence. Instead, they have gone nomadic, producing operas in a different theater around the city every few months.

Not having a permanent home has not led the Boston Lyric to scale down their ambitious productions, however. If anything, they’ve ramped up.

For Tosca, one of Puccini’s most powerful and challenging works for audiences and performers alike, the BLO has set up shop at the Emerson Culter Majestic Theater in downtown Boston. This gilded venue has a lot of charm, and very importantly is a great deal better suited acoustically for unamplified music like opera than the Shubert was. That said, the Cutler also has one major drawback when it comes to presenting a large-scale opera like Tosca, an opera with a massive orchestra: it has a postage-stamp-sized pit.

So, what to do when the orchestra is too big and the space they’re supposed to play in too small? Flip the script.

“We are poised on-top of the set – ten feet up, behind the singers - towards the back of the stage,” explains the conductor of the BLO’s production of Tosca, David Stern. “They call it ‘integrating the orchestra into the action.’

“The singers will see me only on monitors… [and] I won't be able to see them." 

It’s an unusual orientation, especially for a work that depends so heavily on a fluid relationship between singer and conductor as Puccini's Tosca

But Stern doesn’t seem concerned. On the contrary, he seems excited.

"We have to have a very tight relationship, and that’s, very luckily, what’s been happening. I’ve been enjoying this cast tremendously. It’s actually forced me to ask questions of myself, of how I did [Tosca] the last time, and how I can make sure that this is smoother, and I enjoy that process very much.”

Puccini’s Tosca runs October 13-22 at the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theater. For tickets and more information, visit the BLO.

Chris Voss is the Weekday Afternoon Host and a Producer for CRB.