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A young singer absorbs as much as possible from Opera Tampa's maestro, who is preparing to exit.

For tenor Scott Piper, it is going to be a special moment Friday when he cakes his face with greasepaint and sings the famous tears-of-a-clown aria, Vesti la giubba, in Pagliacci.

Piper is making his debut in the role of Canio with Opera Tampa's production of the Leoncavallo opera, with conductor Anton Coppola in the orchestra pit.

"Nothing is ever going to replace opening night for me, and particularly that aria," Piper said last week after an afternoon rehearsal. "To be able to finally have the opportunity to sing that aria for a live audience in performance with a musician like maestro Coppola in the pit. That's absolutely going to be one of the highlights of my career."

The clown's aria was a staple of Enrico Caruso and many other tenors. "It's the kind of aria that you listen to as a young tenor and think, 'Oh, my gosh, this is what I hopefully can sing one day,''' Piper said. "You scream it out in your room when you're just starting out and trying to sing your first high G."

Pagliacci will be paired, as it usually is, with Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana. The two short operas, dubbed Cav and Pag, are exemplars of Italian verismo opera, low-life melodramas that rose up in the late 19th century in response to Wagnerian romanticism. The two recount illicit affairs, jealousy and murder with zesty abandon.

Cav andPag represents the start of a farewell tour for Coppola, stepping down at the end of this season as conductor and artistic director of Opera Tampa after 17 years. Coppola, who turns 95 in March, has a lifetime of experience in opera to pass along to singers like Piper.

"When I get home at night, I make marks in my score, all those tidbits of information I've picked up from maestro Coppola during rehearsal," the tenor said. "One of the most important things is the musical pacing. I've never seen a conductor who is so aware of the entire arc of the opera. He can be in one spot in the opera and all of a sudden something will come up, and he'll explain how the tempos there relate to tempos elsewhere. In terms of the symmetry of the work, it's so cohesive, it's really amazing."

As is the norm, Piper will sing the principal tenor roles in both operas. Canio is the head of a company of traveling players who learns that his wife, the troupe's ingenue, has a lover and kills her. In Cavalleria Rusticana, he plays Turiddu, a village Lothario who meets his fate on an Easter Sunday in Sicily.

Piper recently made his debut as Turiddu with the Israeli Opera in Tel Aviv. He will be singing the role of Anatol in Samuel Barber's Vanessa with Sarasota Opera in March.

The orchestral intermezzo from Cav should be worth hearing this weekend. It was a motif in Godfather III, the movie in which Coppola appeared to conduct the opera for his nephew, Francis Ford Coppola.

John Fleming can be reached at or (727) 893-8716.

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Opera Tampa stages the double bill at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Morsani Hall of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, Tampa. $29.50-$89.50. (813) 229-7827 or toll-free 1-800-955-1045;