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Grand opera returns to Tilles with 'Tosca'

Opera on a grand scale and in the grand tradition returns to Long Island.

"If we don't do opera, who's going to?" That's the rhetorical question Elliott Sroka asks, referring to Tilles Center, which he directs.

It's been 2 1/2 years since Tilles presented a fully staged opera, "Aida," from the traditional European repertoire.

"There was a time when we'd do four or five a year," Sroka recalls. "But there just haven't been many worthy tours available."

That is, until Dicapo Opera Theatre, the little company that could. Could what? Make its mark in Manhattan, home of the behemoth Metropolitan Opera and now-strugging New York City Opera, and beyond.

Saturday night, Dicapo presents "Tosca," Puccini's tragic tale of love, political intrigue and misperceived betrayal. It features Kristin Sampson, a soprano Dicapo has helped develop into an international star, in the title role, and Peter Furlong as her lover. Music director Pacien Mazzagatti conducts the Dicapo orchestra.

HOMECOMING In this, its 30th anniversary season, Dicapo -- named for co-founders Diane Martindale and Michael Capasso -- comes full circle. "Tosca" was the company's first opera in 1981, performed in Great Neck's Playhouse. But the building was sold and converted to condos. "We were homeless," recalls Capasso, who grew up in Great Neck, son of a contractor. After several vagabond seasons, Dicapo settled into its Upper East Side space on the lower level of St. Jean Baptiste Church. "I dug the orchestra pit myself," Capasso says. (He has continued his dual career in opera management and the family contracting business.)

"We're known for presenting opera on an intimate scale," Capasso says, referring to Dicapo's 200-seat theater.

How will that translate to Tilles' 2,000 seats? "We have a small theater but a large stage," Capasso says. For "Tosca," he says, "we devised a turntable staging so that we're performing in the round without being in the round. We move with the scenery to cinematically focus each scene."

ENCORE Dicapo returns May 5 to Tilles with Verdi's "La Traviata," and Sroka says he hopes to bring the company back next season. "Some people think proximity [to Manhattan] hurts opera on Long Island," Capasso says. "But as many as will come into the city, twice as many will come see it on the Island. Opera was formerly successful here and will be again."

The toughest competition, he adds, is the Metropolitan Opera's HD simulcasts. "It's been very good for the Met but very bad for touring shows," Capasso says. "People pay little money for what they perceive as seeing the Met. But nothing can replace being there."

This from a kid who fell in love with opera by taking the train from Great Neck to the Met on Saturdays.


WHAT "Tosca"

WHEN | WHERE Saturday night at 8 at Tilles Center, C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University, Brookville

INFO $37 to $82, tillescenter.org, 516-299-3100

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