Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca, which Opera San Antonio will present as its season debut this Thursday and Saturday, is a passionate, brutal, and ultimately tragic love story set within knotty layers of political and civil unrest.

The production will find Boston-based director E. Loren Meeker at the helm of Opera San Antonio for the third time. She previously directed Rossini’s The Barber of Seville in 2017 and Puccini’s La Bohème in 2018.

The part of Tosca herself – the fiery protagonist who grapples with her principles, goes to great lengths to defend her tortured lover Mario Cavaradossi, and very nearly triumphs over the repugnant Baron Scarpia – will be performed by soprano Jennifer Rowley in her Opera San Antonio debut.

The internationally renowned Rowley is no stranger to the role, having played it to considerable accolade a host of times, including for the Metropolitan Opera (last year), Philadelphia Orchestra, and Seoul Arts Center.

The rest of the six-person cast features a number of distinguished performers – most notably tenor Rafael Davila as Cavaradossi and baritone Michael Chioldi as Scarpia – who are also reprising roles in Tosca. As such, familiarity with the material is a part of why Meeker said this production has been so enjoyable.

For Meeker, this will be her first time directing the classic opera, which premiered in Rome in 1900. She said she “fell in love with it right away” because the music “is this huge emotional journey that invites serious contemplation.”

“There’s this grandness to it that produces an almost overwhelming emotional experience,” she said of the opera.

E. Loren Meeker directs Opera San Antonio’s Tosca.

Like all of the great masterpieces from any art form, Meeker said that Tosca possesses a timelessness that makes it as relevant today as it was more than 100 years ago.

“It speaks to these intrinsic and timeless human qualities and struggles,” she said, “so it’s something that everyone can relate to whether you’ve seen 500 operas or haven’t even seen 500 seconds of opera.”

She also noted that Tosca deals, implicitly and explicitly, “with areas that we are still struggling with as humans.” These thematic areas include political ambition, love, and faith, but they also include violence, domination, and possession – themes that Meeker feels relate to the #MeToo movement and, in general, our unstable social milieu.

“Through Tosca, you can look at our history and interrogate how we want to look at our future,” Meeker said.

In the opera, Tosca fails to get exactly the result she wants, but her courage in facing down and overcoming her captor strikes a note of defiant hope and partial victory.

“Here you have a woman in love who has to navigate an intense political situation and come up with her own solutions,” said Veronica Lopez, Opera San Antonio’s artistic administrator.

“She wants to protect her love, but her issue is one of how far she is willing to go to protect it … which is a conflict that resonates with all sorts of people.”

Both Meeker and Lopez believe that this particular opera, which uses sets from the Seattle Opera, could prove an accessible entry point for those who have yet to acquire a taste for the art form.

“Opera is actually incredibly accessible to everyone, with so many ways to appreciate it, but it has this unfortunate stereotype that it’s only for some select group of people,” Lopez said.

Opera San Antonio will present two performances of Tosca, on Thursday and Saturday, Sept. 12 and 14, at 7:30 p.m. at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are available here.

Annie Labatt, a visual arts professor at Sweet Briar College who is a frequent guest lecturer at the San Antonio Museum of Art and the McNay Art Museum, will deliver a pre-performance talk to help engage the audience even further in Puccini’s masterpiece. Labatt, who recently completed a book on Rome in the eighth and ninth centuries, will speak about art and life in the city that provides the tumultuous setting of Tosca.

James Courtney is a freelance arts and culture journalist in San Antonio. He also is a poet, a high school English teacher and debate coach, and a proud girl dad.