Power by Design

Tosca Takes Center Stage

It’s mid-afternoon and Dona Granata is busy sewing and planning. A stitch here, a tight seam there, possibly hemming a dress. She’s been thinking a lot about passion, power and the El Paso/Juarez region as of late—and for good reason.

On March 19 and 21, Giocomo Pucinni’s iconic opera, Tosca, will be put on in El Paso at the Abraham Chavez Theatre with a third performance on March 24th in Ciudad Juarez. Granata, who’s worked as a costume designer for a number of films that include Kansas City, Dr. T and the Woman and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 has also worked on a number of stage productions as a set and costume designer throughout her career. Granata  is the costume designer for this production of Tosca, and is eager to satisfy the aesthetic appetites of both director David Grabarkewitz and Metropolitan Opera star Lauren Flanigan.

It’s important to me to illustrate the character according to the vision of the director,” says Granata via phone. It’s mid-February and she’s busy preparing from her office in Connecticut.

“And David’s vision for Tosca is very specific.”

Tosca Act 3 sketchPassionate, powerful and complicated, Grabarkewitz’ vision is to highlight the the drama of the opera using modern aesthetic taste.

For Granata, this means flowing gowns with powerful silhouettes to showcase Flanigan’s Tosca as the focal point of of the performance.

Tosca begins with an escaped political prisoner seeking asylum inside a church in a divided Rome in 1800 as Napoleon Bonaparte leads the French Army into Italy. A painter arrives to begin work on an image of Mary Magdalene, and it’s apparent that the painting is in the likeness to a blonde congregation member who visits the church often. Trouble is, the painter’s lover, Floria Tosca, is dark-haired…we all know where this is headed.

The painter is an ally to the prisoner, and hides him from everyone including Tosca, who is immediately suspicious. Meanwhile, the chief of police is hot on the heels of the dissident, and thus begins a tangled and dramatic web of power, passion and political motivation in three heart-pounding acts.

The opera, though written centuries ago, still resonates, and Granata believes that contemporary audiences—especially in the border region.

It’s a story about power and status within a community, and how the characters respond to their passions,” Granata says. “Tosca was a break in the fashion at the time it was written, but it’s a timeless story.”

In terms of costume design, Granata says that she opted for modern looks with classic characteristics. To accomplish this, Granata turned to traditional Catholic iconography, which she says El Paso and Juarez’ audiences will likely recognize from the Italian opera.

One big thing we’re doing is using mantillas on all the women,” she says. “All the costumes are very Mexican and very Italian. The little girls will all be in their communion dresses.”

El Paso Opera’s production of Tosca will feature some of the Metropolitan Opera’s finest, including Flanigan who will be making her international debut as Tosca and David Jackson as conductor.

This is big news not only for El Paso and Juarez communities, but a global artistic community as well.

While talking with Granata, she mentioned an interest in medicine, noting that Greeks used theater as a form of community therapy during Antiquity.

They used art as a form to heal. And whether it’s through medicine or theater, there seems to be a drive to heal and enhance communities any way possible.”

Granata, along with the El Paso Opera and stars like Flanigan, are hoping that this production will encourage audiences to explore the themes that Pucinni’s Tosca presents, and contemplate it in a contemporary context.

The arts can bridge cultures and communities. And that’s exactly what we’re going to be doing.” 

Tosca.Act1B