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A crowd-pleasing mix of cheesy melodramatics and plush lyricism, Puccini’s Tosca is chock-full of great tunes; not least, that ennobling anthem for struggling artists of every stripe, “Visse d’arte.” Its overwrought source material (Sardou’s potboiler play) is tailor-made for the glorious excesses of opera. Revolving around the diva Tosca’s efforts to free her politically incorrect boyfriend, Cavaradossi, from the vice grip of the sinister Baron Scarpia, the piece gives rein to Puccini’s near-fascistic talent for extracting an emotional charge from human suffering. But he does it so well! The greatest singing actors (Callas is the Rosetta Stone here) will reveal Puccini as a consummate man of the theater, and the right conductor can find the sardonic grin lurking beneath the grinding chords. Mark C. Graf does some really sensitive work in the pit at Summer Opera Theatre Company’s new production, but his orchestra is too small by half to do justice to this emotional steamroller of a score. There’s an entertainingly repellent, if hollow-voiced, Scarpia and a Cavaradossi who yells the role instead of acting it. But Susan Foster’s powerhouse spinto voice is the genuine article, an edgy vibrato notwithstanding, and she’s believable in the title role in a mercifully unhistrionic way (pictured, with Peter Riberi as Cavaradossi). Aside from Thomas Donahue’s darkly handsome sets, the production is strictly paint-by-numbers, though the Act 3 death scenes provide unexpected amusement.

Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Catholic University’s Hartke Theater, 620 Michigan Ave. NE. $30-50. (202) 319-5416. (Joe Banno)