Today in 1900, Giacomo Puccini‘s Tosca premiered in Rome, Italy. And aren’t we glad that it did?
Why is Tosca so loved? It combines beauty and savagery. Both the evocative parts and the savage parts loom more powerfully juxtaposed against the other.
So it’s important to those presenting the opera not diminish the potential for beauty in it or else we don’t experience the inhumanity of it to the depth that operagoers are expecting and deserve.
I suppose that was chiefly my issue with the Metropolitan Opera’s production in 2011, which featured Sondra Radvanovsky, Marcelo Álvarez, and Falk Struckmann, which I reviewed for Bachtrack. I won’t launch into another review here, but I will say in retrospect that restraint exercised in stage direction as in writing can be more powerful than succumbing to one’s impulses to add, expand, and heighten, the chief example for me being the director (Bondy) choosing to throw three scantily clad (we’re talking pasties, here) prostitutes into Scarpia’s chambers.
I have no objection to beautiful bodies or their use on stage, but if Tosca is Scarpia’s source of weakness and Scarpia can get sex he wants anytime he wants it however he wants it, his need to have Tosca is sorely and sadly diminished–the power and the aftereffects of that scene are diminished rather than enhanced by adding more sex.
Does that mean I wouldn’t see the Met production again? I’d see it in a heartbeat. Falk Struckmann’s performance as Baron Scarpia was my favorite of the season, despite the over-the-top things Bondy incorporated into his part. Seeing both Radvanovsky and Álvarez in one show added a notch to my opera belt. Of course, I probably wouldn’t have a chance to see this cast again, so I will recreate portions of my experience for you here.
Here then are my two favorite moments from The Met’s Tosca, breathtaking moments, literally. In “Vissi d’arte,” right around 3:12 in the video below, I gasped, so completely engrossed in Radvanovsky’s climatic note. Then of course the aria becomes tender and quiet. Unfortunately, since I’d lost my breath, I began coughing at that point. I’m sure people sitting around me wanted to choke me. Then I began digging in my purse for a cough drop to silence my coughing. Rattle, rattle, rattle. I’m very sorry to those around me for disturbing their enjoyment of this aria:
And the other favorite moment I can share with you from the Met production is “E lucevan le stelle.”
Viva, Tosca! You will live forever in our hearts.