‘Tosca’: from opera to café to musical

“Conjuring a world in which love, betrayal and hope emerge from the shadows and disappear with the clink of a glass” goes the advertising for “The Tosca Project,” an unusual collaboration between the American Conservatory Theater and the San Francisco Ballet.

The world-premiere production, already in previews and opening today, is the result of four years of work by ACT Artistic Director Carey Perloff and San Francisco Ballet dancer and choreographer Val Caniparoli, who began by workshopping a musical revue to pay tribute to and invoke the spirit of Tosca Cafe.

The coffee house, with its combination of Italian café ambiance and live and recorded opera, occupies a special place in the history of San Francisco’s North Beach.

It’s also known as a social fulcrum. Established in 1917, it has survived Prohibition and the ups and downs of The City. Through the years, politicians, journalists, writers, movie stars, dancers, and, most recently, an increasingly larger proportion of tourists have populated the place. 

Jeannette Etheredge of the Nureyev Foundation owns Tosca Cafe, which has appeared as itself in a half dozen films, including “Basic Instinct” and “Twisted.”

Originally described as a “movement-theater workshop” presentation, “The Tosca Project” has evolved into an integrated work, featuring a story linking musical and dance numbers.

Music is by composers from Puccini  to Hendrix and pretty much everything in between. The dancers include Pascal Molat, Lorena Feijoo and Sabina Allemann; actors are Peter Anderson, Rachel Ticotin, Gregory Wallace and Jack Willis.

“We celebrate the café as a metaphor for all those magical bars around the world in which the ghosts of a million encounters remain present in the air,” says Perloff. “It is a unique collaboration between some of the best Bay Area artists and the city we love, offered as a valentine to our extraordinary audience.”

Caniparoli says, “When Carey and I first started discussing the project, we knew that this was going to be an incredible collaboration, featuring artists from different disciplines, backgrounds and styles. I have loved seeing these completely different artists working in a room together.”

The Tosca Project

Where: American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco     
When: 8 p.m. most Tuesdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. most Wednesdays, Saturdays-Sundays; closes June 27
Tickets: $17 to $82
Contact: (415) 749-2228, www.act-sf.org

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