Stella Zambalis is going to be busy in February. First, she is playing the title role in Tosca, the St. Petersburg Opera production of the Puccini staple that opens this weekend. Next she'll be playing PBS chef Julia Child in Lee Hoiby's comedy Bon Appétit for Opera Tampa. Then she'll be heading off to perform another Tosca with Winter Opera St. Louis.
"I have to say — and I have to be careful, because now there is going to be a lot of expectation — but Tosca is probably at this moment my very best role, and it's absolutely without question my favorite," Zambalis said last week. "I think I am so much Tosca. She is an opera singer, after all."
For Tosca to be Zambalis' favorite role is saying something, because the soprano has a glittering resume that includes many highlights over the past 30 years, such as originating the role of Cherubino in the 1991 premiere of John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles at the Metropolitan Opera. She traveled the world to sing at many leading opera houses, such as Houston Grand Opera, Seattle Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin and La Scala in Milan.
Zambalis now lives in Clearwater, where she spent much of her youth, graduating from Clearwater High School and St. Petersburg Junior College before going on to FSU and an opera career. She moved home to be with her aged mother, and has liked what she has seen when attending St. Petersburg Opera performances.
"In the three and a half years I've been here, I've seen this company grow in just that short time," she said. "The production values get higher and higher. I thought Samson and Delilah was amazing."
In recent years, Zambalis has performed in two Sarasota Opera productions. She was the Witch in Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel and Princess Eboli, a mezzo-soprano role, in Verdi's Don Carlos.
In the St. Petersburg Tosca, Zambalis is joined by David Gustafson as the painter Cavaradossi and Todd Donovan as the corrupt police chief Scarpia. Tosca's aria Vissi d'arte is a classic of bel canto singing. She also gets her revenge.
"I love killing Scarpia in the second act," Zambalis said. "You get to do what you can't do in real life. It's awesome."