Meet the Non-Diva Playing a Diva in Tosca at Opera in the Heights

Rehearsal underway at Opera in the Heights for Tosca.
Rehearsal underway at Opera in the Heights for Tosca. Photo by Pin Lim
As Opera in the Heights prepares to open its production of Tosca, soprano Elizabeth Baldwin will be taking on the title character's role for the eighth time  — something she looks forward and not just for the great music by Puccini she gets to sing.

"You get to be so many different things that I am not in real life. She embodies every emotion that humans really go through," Baldwin says. Tosca enters consumed by jealousy sure that her lover  the painter Mario Cavaradossi is enamored of another woman. Actually, he has just finished talking with Cesare Angelotti, an escaped political prisoner on the run from the evil Chief of Police Caron Scarpia.

In rapid fire Tosca switches to being a loving partner, and as the opera progresses she is everything from a demanding lover to one willing to sacrifice everything for another to a murderer to her final jump to her death. "She is the ultimate diva and she is the ultimate queen," Baldwin says. "I love the challenge that these really tough ladies possess." (She also likes playing Lady Macbeth)

This will be the first time Baldwin has sung in Houston, although with a brother who attended Rice University  and played football for the Owls she did visit the city. She was approached to sing in Don Giovanni for Opera in the Heights a few years back but a conflict in her schedule made that impossible.

Growing up, she sang in the church choir with her father who introduced her to opera. "He took me to my first opera which was Don Giovanni. I think I was 5 or 6. I sat through the whole thing. I was so fixated on the  Commendatore; I told my dad I wanted to be him when I grew up."

Baldwin was a mezzo soprano in her undergrad years until her senior year when a teacher suggested she had some really good high notes. It wasn't until she was studying for her master's at Indiana University that a teacher there really helped her with the transition, she says. "I was more of a lazy soprano. But once I really developed that part of my voice and my range it was actually a lot more comfortable and I really found where I was supposed to be all the time."

Asked why Tosca remains so popular, Baldwin says. "I think it’s probably because she’s relatable. Everybody has been through some sort of traumatic experience. I feel like it's one of the most human productions. It’s not just fantasy."

Another reason to come see this particular production at Lambert Hall? "It's an intimate setting.  It's an opportunity for people to come here and see us breathe. See the spit fly out of our mouths. It’s just a really great opportunity for people to come in and watch us work.

Performances of Tosca are scheduled for October 5-13 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and October 13, and 2 p.m. October 6 at Opera in the Heights, 1703 Heights Boulevard. Sopranos Elizabeth Baldwin (October 5, 11, 13) and Victoria Cannizzo (October 6, 12) sing the role of Tosca. For information, call 713-861-5303 or visit operaintheheights.org/tosca. $34.50 to $84.50.

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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