Arizona Opera conductor Joel Revzen loves Puccini's "Tosca."
"It is probably the most powerful dramatic opera that Puccini ever wrote," he explained as Arizona Opera was about to open the production in Phoenix last weekend; it comes to the Tucson Music Hall Saturday and Sunday. "It has every element of what we consider grand opera. There's jealousy, passion, murder, love."
And there's a compelling, technically challenging score that is driven more by emotion than rhythm.
"It's like going to a dance and your partner is a competitive ballroom dancer and you have to follow every move they make. There aren't necessarily planned next steps. ... It all follows the emotional expression of the text. That's how the music is set up and that's what makes it so compelling; it makes it feel spontaneous rather than pre-planned."
Revzen, making his first appearance at the podium for Arizona Opera this season, provided a cheat sheet on "Tosca":
Sex, lies and jealousy: Floria Tosca is an opera diva with a crush on a painter named Mario Cavaradossi, whom she suspects might be cheating on her with the model who is inspiring his painting of Mary Magdelena. Enter escaped political prisoner Cesare Angelotti, who has taken up refuge in the church where his friend Cavaradossi is painting and seeks his help to hide. Meanwhile, determined Police Chief Baron Scarpia is desperately hunting Angelotti and convinces Tosca that her lover is cheating so he can get her to turn on him, so he can in turn capture Angelotti.
Political intrigue, sex and murder: Later that night at the Farnese Palace, Scarpia and his henchmen have taken Cavaradossi into custody to torture him into revealing Angelotti's hiding place. Tosca also is at the palace, singing at a gala downstairs. When she sees her lover dragged away to be tortured, she tells Scarpia where he can find Angelotti only to enrage Cavaradossi, who thinks he and his friend will be in the clear now that Napoleon has won the Battle of Marengo.
Scarpia offers to spare Cavaradossi if Tosca submits to him. She agrees and Scarpia signs a letter that promises to spare Cavaradossi's life. As he embraces Tosca, she stabs him with a knife from the table and grabs the document.
Deceit and death: Tosca finds Cavaradossi facing down his firing squad and assures him that he will be spared, that the executioners will be firing blanks. She coaches him on how to fake his death. But when the guns are fired, the bullets are real and Tosca's lover dies. Realizing she has been tricked by Scarpia, and that she is on the verge of being arrested, she leaps to her death.
"Opera shines a magnifying glass on all of these elements of humanity that have existed forever," said Revzen, and "Tosca" is "filled with the most incredible, passionate arias. It will really reach everyone emotionally."
If you go
• What: Arizona Opera presents Puccini's "Tosca."
• Conducted by: Joel Revzen.
• Directed by: Bernard Uzan.
• Length: 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission.
• When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
• Where: Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave.
• Tickets: $30 to $120 through www.ticketmaster.com Half -priced through noon today with the code word "fifty" when ordering online or by phone, 293-4336