Saturday, May 18, 2013

Tosca Feelings

Ok, first of all I know I should be posting the La Boheme thing, BUT something happened. My teacher gave a very special assignment, to write about anything we’d like for our final grade. First I thought I’d just use something from the blog, I got plenty of options, but then I thought I’d be much more productive if I actually wrote something new and posted it here as well as handing it in for my professor. I wrote it primarily in English, since as many of you know I can express myself better in, and am still going to translate it to portuguse and probably cut a little bit of it, because it’s 7 pages long. I tried to be objective but that doesn’t really work when I’m talking about things I love and this opera is my favorite Puccini opera and this is my favorite production of it, so here it goes. Good luck ;) Ah I’m gonna leave the video here should anyone want to watch it.

Tosca, an opera by the Italian composer Giacomo Puccini, is one of the great master pieces in all music history. The action takes place during a real day in history, the 17th of June 1800 in Rome, when from morning to dawn a chain of events unfolds which leads us to ultimate tragedy. The story revolves around Floria Tosca, a prima donna who is in love with the painter Mario Cavaradossi. But since this is opera things aren’t so uncomplicated, the third end of this love triangle is one of opera’s truly evil characters, Baron Scarpia. In this article the production in particular that will be reviewed is the Royal Opera House’s 2011 production.
As Floria Tosca we have the Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu who is famous for her performances in Puccini opera, she actually made her Royal Opera House debut in the role of Mimi from Puccini’s La Boheme in 1992. As Mario Cavaradosi we have the German tenor Jonas Kaufmann who has an extensive repertoire that ranges from Mozart to Wagner, going by Verdi, Puccini, Strauss and many others. And finally the amazing Welsh bass baritone Bryn Terfel as Baron Scarpia, Terfel also has the most exquisite repertoire singing from Wotan (from Wagner’s Ring Cycle) to Leporello (from Mozart’s Don Giovanni).
The maestro Antonio Pappano drops a remarkable quote just before he goes into the pit to conduct Tosca “The beginning of Tosca one of the great openings in all music. Three very, very simple but iconic chords, that speak of Rome, oppression, power, lust, everything!”

And so the opera begins with those chilling chords described by the maestro, Puccini does not take his time to write an overture for this piece, for after we hear the chords the curtains opens and the story begins. Of course you could think of the one minute of orchestral music which follows the chords as an introduction but that is hardly the case for the music presented demands action and seems to narrate what’s happening on stage. The curtains reveal the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle where a runaway political prisoner, Cesare Angelotti, seeks safety. He finds the key to the chapel hidden by his sister by the feet of the statue of the Madonna and there he hides.
The Sacristan enters, he prays frantically, and is followed by the painter Mario Cavaradossi. He is working on a painting of Mary Magdalene and introduces himself musically with a beautiful aria, “Recondita armonia” in which he describes the differences between his lover, Floria Tosca and the lady he has been painting. Kaufmann’s rendition of the aria is divine, his dark colored voice puts away all kinds of stereotyped thoughts one might have of how a tenor sounds. It is interesting to notice how while he describes the painting with some enthusiasm, when he speaks of his lover his voice is filled with power, joy, love and devotion. This aspect can be found in the music itself but Kaufmann’s interpretation of it makes it more explicit and shows the public Cavaradossi is truly head over heels in love with Tosca, in particular when he sings “L'arte nel suo mistero le diverse bellezze insiem confonde; ma nel ritrar costei il mio solo pensiero, Tosca, sei tu!” (The mystery of art blends two beauties together. But while I paint her, all my thoughts are of you. All my thoughts, Tosca, are of you!). The sacristan doesn’t approve of Cavaradossi’s ways and leaves.

As soon as the sacristan has left Angelotti reveals himself and asks for Cavaradossi's help. Tosca’s voice is heard and Cavaradossi tells him to hide back in the chapel.
Tosca arrives and is already suspicious of her lover having heard whispered voices and hurried footsteps on her way in. Tosca is a very passionate woman, a very loving partner but also extremely jealous of her lover. And because of this aspect the interpretation of this iconic character can go downhill if the performer does not know how to handle and show Tosca’s characteristics. But Angela Gheorghiu is the perfect performer for the part, apart from her golden voice which fits the role quite rightly; she manages to deliver a very believable Tosca, not an over done diva but a real person with real intense feelings, an artist.

Tosca is quite convinced Mario is hiding someone from her and he pleads to convince her otherwise with loving words. Tosca is easily convinced of his innocence and offers her flowers to the Madonna. The instrumental music written for this particular moment when Tosca prays is brief but delightful, it speaks of peace and bliss the right introduction to Tosca’s first aria “Non la sospiri la nostra casetta”. In this Tosca delights on the memories of them together and what’s to happen that evening since she’s got everything arranged for them to meet at their villa. Cavaradossi is worried for he has promised to help his runaway friend but manages to hide his concerns.
Gheorghiu sings this Puccini repertoire masterfully, having many, many years of experience up her sleeve she lets herself flow along with the melody and captures every subtle nuance of the text and music. She delights in every word and note, giving us just the right amount of bliss when she sings “Arde a Tosca folle amor!” (Tosca burns with desire) and then is joined by Kaufmann’s passionate “Mi avvinci nei tuoi lacci, mia sirena!” (You’ve caught me in your snare, my siren).
They kiss and Cavaradossi is almost able to send her away when she notices what he’s been painting, a blonde blue eyed young woman. Tosca’s suspicions are raised again and after she recognizes the woman as the Marchesa Attavanti she’s sure Cavaradossi is seeing the other woman and that it was she who was there just before Tosca herself arrived. She is enraged and is about to destroy the painting when Cavaradossi explains the lady had been there the day before praying for so long he ended up painting her face on the Magdalena figure.

He reassures Tosca of his fidelity telling her how her dark eyes are so superior to the blue ones in a bittersweet aria that then turns into a luscious duet. Kaufmann and Gheorghiu have a unique kind of chemistry; the way they regard each other is deep and full of feeling. Every gesture seems to come from within with an almost immediate response from the other with the perfect amount of energy. It’s a truly exquisite exchange. And as soon as Cavaradosi starts singing his passion filled aria Tosca is overcome with pleasure and love, forgetting about the quarrel. They delight in each other’s embrace, but she asks him to make Magdalena’s eyes dark, like hers. So we see they go through this road quite a few times, with Tosca’s unexpected bursts of jealousy and Cavaradossi’s soothing words when he says “Mia Tosca idolatrata, ogni cosa in te mi piace; l'ira audace e lo spasimo d'amor!” (My Tosca, I love everything about you. Your flashes of anger and your pangs of love). Having gotten all the praises and loving words she came for Tosca leaves reminding Cavaradossi to make the eyes dark.
She leaves and Angelotti comes out of his hiding. Just as he is telling Angelotti to hide in his villa there is a cannon signal meaning the police know Angelotti has escaped, they both flee the church rapidly. The Sacristan is back and is followed by Baron Scarpia who releases the order to search the entire church for his fugitive while he interrogates the Sacristan. If Trefel’s Scarpia could be described in one word it’d be frightening. With very little gesture he manages to suck all of the oxygen from the room by simply standing there with his eyes wide open always in alert.
And as the Sacristan speaks Scarpia is able to connect Cavaradossi to the runaway and figure out he must be helping him get away, plus he finds a fan Angelotti left behind that belonged to his sister. Scarpia is not only interested in re arresting his prisoner but is also quite obsessed with the singer Floria Tosca, who he knows is Cavaradossi’s lover and will use all means to get what he wants.
Tosca arrives back to tell Cavaradossi they can’t meet that night but as she learns he has fled goes back into her melancholy thinking he’s betrayed her. Scarpia seeing the woman is naturally the jealous sort snakes his way into her confidence to try and convince her that what she fears the most is actually true. This duet, unlike the previous one Tosca just had, is tense and feels as if Tosca is fishing not for compliments but for proofs she doesn’t really want to see, but Scarpia shows them in a way one would be left with no doubt Cavaradossi was indeed betraying her, especially when Scarpia shows her the fan. Both performers have great energy and Terfel’s Scarpia seems to cling to every word Tosca says with desire and want while Tosca is more and more desperate. The more miserable Tosca gets the more Scarpia is delighted and the closer Scarpia gets the more disgusted Tosca is. She finally decides to confront Cavaradossi in their villa thinking he’ll be there with his other lover and leaves.
Scarpia is left alone to sing one of the most achingly gorgeous arias of all time “Va, Tosca! Nel tuo cuor s'annida Scarpia!”, he tells his man to follow Tosca and when they all leave raves about his plan to win Tosca over whether she wants it or not. Terfel lets the music do its job of showing exactly who his character is; his acting is punctual and absolutely fitting for the role. Scarpia is much more than a villain, he is truly evil and that is expressed in his gigantic voice that can be clearly heard over the chorus and the eighty piece orchestra. The act ends with Scarpia’s promise to get what he wants no matter the cost.

Act two as the first measures are played the curtain opens to reveal Scarpia’s apartment in Palazzo Farnese. The scenery is truly magnificent; all candle light with big windows showing that day’s twilight and an enormous sculpture of a warrior angel pointing his spear down dominates the room but doesn’t stand out to the point of total distraction. Scarpia is waiting for Tosca to arrive, he is serene, his plan is working.
To truly show Scarpia’s twisted nature he gets the aria “Ha più forte sapore la conquista violenta” to express exactly what he likes. He’s not the romantic sort, he wants to conquer what he desires, squeeze it dry and then throw it away. Spoletta, Scarpia’s right hand, tells him that even though he didn’t find Angelotti he brought Cavaradossi as his prisoner. As Scarpia starts interrogating Cavaradossi Tosca’s singing voice can be heard at the distance which confuses and distracts Cavaradossi and Scarpia delights at the man’s suffering. Cavaradossi and Scarpia seem like two snakes hissing at each other, none gives in, and Cavaradossi says nothing. Scarpia was predicting this kind of attitude and just as Tosca arrives he sends Cavaradossi to further interrogation in a special room, the lovers only get a few moments to see each other as he is taken to another room.
One thing that is interesting to notice is that as soon as Scarpia’s focus changes from Cavaradosi to Tosca his eyes gleam showing a bit of all the intense unholy feelings he holds towards her. And Cavaradossi notices this and starts to fight against Scarpia’s man having seen in Scarpia’s gaze his true goal, this to me is true artistry, because those same signs can be heard in the music beneath them and is perfectly interpreted in their acting.
Tosca is wearing a gorgeous dress, cream colored embroidered with silver and pearly small stones with a high Pride and Prejudice waist, long gloves and jewels that would make the Queen of England jealous. In other words, she looks divine, and Scarpia quite literally eats her up with his intense lustful gaze. Scarpia starts questioning her about how she confronted Mario with the fan and she assured him it was silly jealousy and that Cavaradossi was quite alone when she met him. Scarpia is not quite sure she’s telling the truth and turns to more unorthodox ways to getting information.
What’s interesting about this scene is that it starts quite serene; both are very serious but polite. But as it proceeds both characters civil mask fall and just as Scarpia shows what kind of monster he really is, Tosca shows him how insanely desperate she is and how easily he can get to her nerves. As Scarpia explains just what sort of torture Cavaradossi is being put through Gheorghiu actually speaks instead of singing “Sogghigno di demone!” (You sneering demon). As she hears Cavaradossi’s cries Gheorghiu’s expressions of hate mingled with concern and desperation do the character justice.
Gheorghiu plays Tosca in this moment as a person that’s beyond desperate, her eyes are wide opened, and she can’t even believe that that is actually happening to her. The first signals of someone who is slipping out of their sanity and taking decisions that are unlike her, the music moves in the same way, the melody feels round, as if she’s spinning out of her sanity.
Tosca is being bombed with Scarpia’s anger and we the cries from Cavaradossi. The whole situation tortures Tosca’s mind to the extreme and she finally gives in and the music accompanies her on that. All this time the melody was hanging never going anywhere and as she says she’ll tell him what she knows the melody finally descends. It is quite heart aching as she utters “No! - Ah! Più non posso! - Che orror! Cessate il martîr! È troppo il soffrir!” (No! I can’t take it anymore! Stop this agony; it’s too much to bear!) She actually throws herself against the book case, where the room Cavaradossi is, crying and pleading for Cavaradossi’s consent for her to speak, but he does not give her that permission. But she is quite over the edge now, desperate, as Tosca herself says, Scarpia is torturing her as well as Cavaradossi, she tells Scarpia where Angelotti is hiding and the torture immediately stops.
They bring the fainted Cavaradossi in, he’s got some nasty wounds on his face and she denies telling Scarpia anything. But Scarpia sends out an order quite loudly to where Angelotti is and Cavaradossi promptly turns against Tosca, telling her she’s betrayed him and cursing her. Another brief and yet so emotional moment for Tosca, she’s just been through hell having to hear the love of her life being tortured and he turns against her, there’s no floor beneath Tosca’s feet at this moment.
But news reach them of Napoleon's victory at Marengo; Cavaradossi gloats, telling Scarpia that his rule of terror will soon be at an end, before being dragged away by Scarpia's men. He has signed his death warrant, way to go Mario!
Scarpia and Tosca are again left alone and he tells her there is a way she can save her lover, if she gives herself to him. She’s disgusted and refuses his advances but the more she hates him the more he wants her. Terfel makes his “lust declaration” in an intense almost animal way that really shows the essence of his character, a predator who needs to conquer his prey no matter the cost.    
Tosca is distraught, this is rock bottom for her, and with that comes one of the most iconic arias in the whole history of opera. As Gheorghiu sings “Vissi D’arte” her eyes are like pools of sadness but her voice is pure legato bliss she asks God why he has abandoned her. Her long masterfully well sustained tormented long notes seem to penetrate our very souls and we feel as she feels, betrayed, abandoned and lost.
Scarpia is not amused and asks her to make a decision, and as Tosca begs for his mercy he gives into her desires. They make a bargain, if she gives herself to him, Scarpia will give her a free passage out of the Papal States, but as for Cavaradossi since he’s defied Scarpia in public he must be executed, but he promises Tosca that it will be a faked execution, not a real one. As they seal their deal Scarpia’s eyes are terrifyingly wide with desire but Tosca stands firm and tells him to write the safe passage to her right then.
As Scarpia writes Tosca is quite defeated, she does not want to give into Scarpia, but she is no fool, she knows their fate lies in his hands. As Scarpia gets ready to attack and the music starts building up, getting more and more intense, Scarpia says “Tosca, finalmente mia!” (Tosca, finally mine!) touching Tosca’s back and as soon as that sentence is done she stabs him hard with a dinner knife. He immediately starts calling out for help, but he himself has shut all doors, Tosca who is overcome by anger and revenge screams “Questo è il bacio di Tosca!”  (This is Tosca’s kiss). Gheorghiu’s eyes, that only moments ago were filled with sadness, now shine in a mad way, she’s actually enjoying what she’s doing she asks “Ti soffoca il sangue?”  (Are you chocking on your blood?), she grabs him by the hair and makes him stare at her when she mocks him as she says “E ucciso da una donna!” (Killed by a woman!). She stabs him quite a few times screaming “Muori dannato! Muori, Muori!” (Die, damned you! Die!). After he’s quite dead, Tosca starts to look for the passage he’s written for her to leave, it is only after she takes the blood soaked note from his grip that she realizes what she’s actually done. But what’s remarkable is that she pays the respects towards the body, puts up candles but not in one glance or in one movement does she show she regrets what she’s done.
We start the third act quite differently with a long passage of instrumental music, very calm and serene music to imitate the early morning that’s to come. We are taken to the roof of Castel Sant’Angelo as the guards bring the defeated Cavaradossi the music changes and gets dramatic melancholic lines. Cavaradossi is sure he’s going to die without ever seeing the face of his beloved Tosca ever again, and so he offers the officer his only possession, a ring, so a note can be delivered to Tosca after his execution.
The officer agrees and Cavaradossi writes his final farewell singing the aria “E lucevan le stelle...”as he remembers his happy days with Tosca. Kaufmann is the master in dynamic, he can start a phrase forte and end pianissimo in a long high note, steal your heart and then bring it back to you.  At one moment his voice is sounding tender and warm, thinking of Tosca, then bang, reality, it grows frustrated and saddened. Kaufmann’s acting follows suit so you can actually see as well as hear all these states he’s going through.
And just as we think the music is going downhill with Cavaradossi it suddenly changes into a brighter tune as Tosca appears. They embrace and Tosca hands him the passage she’s gotten and explains what she had to do to get it, and also that she’s killed Scarpia with her own hands. Again there is no sign of regret in Tosca’s ways as she narrates how she stabbed Scarpia in the heart. Mario is at first quite surprised but can see she’s troubled and tells her how her hands will only now serve for tender duties, never more for this kind of vile business. They have another tender moment in which you see that wonderful chemistry these two performers have work its magic; they are absolutely connected just like a real couple in love.  
Tosca delights in telling Cavaradossi how his execution will be faked and he must fall down when they shoot and soon they’ll escape and run away together. One thing I find quite interesting about this duet is that the orchestral parts give us an idea that they are describing a mere dream and nothing more and that pretty soon they will wake from that beautiful dream of love. And oddly enough Tosca does speak of a time when they both will have passed away in a blissful way “Finché congiunti alle celesti sfere dileguerem, siccome alte sul mare a sol cadente” (until together we shall fade away, beyond the sphere of earth, as light clouds fade, at sundown, high above the sea).

They continue their passionate exchange and again, their eyes locked with each other in a way you can almost see a string connecting them. The joy of two artists being together united by love and art is clearly expressed when they both sing in unison “Armonie di colori. Armonie di canti diffonderem! Trionfal, di nova speme l'anima freme in celestial crescente ardor. Ed in armonico vol già l'anima va all'estasi d'amor.” (Harmonies of color... And harmonies of song! Triumphant, the soul trembles with new hope in heavenly increasing ardor. And in harmonious light the spirit soars to the ecstasy of love.)
Tosca and Cavaradossi quite literally laugh at the executioner as Cavaradossi says he’ll act “come la Tosca in teatro” as the shooters arrive they pretend to be desolated and Cavaradossi is tied up to be shot as the Sun rises. As they get ready to shoot him the music grows into an intense mix of angst and hope, Cavaradossi is shot and falls down. As the shooters slowly leave she warns Mario not to move, the music is dragging as slowly and tensely as the pace of the shooters. As soon as they are again alone she calls out to him in a manner as if all the hard ache has been taken from her back, but the feeling does not last for long, for Mario has indeed been shot and lies dead in front her his beloved Tosca.
It is then that Tosca goes back into the place she was when she stabbed Scarpia, desperate and irrational, but now she’s lost everything. As she rushes to the edge of the roof top the soldiers’ voices can be heard as they have found Scarpia’s dead body and know Tosca was responsible. They reach the roof top just in time to see Tosca as she screams “O Scarpia, avanti a Dio!” (Oh Scarpia, before God!) and she jumps, killing herself as the music explodes, the first rays of Sun appear and the curtain closes.
Tosca is the ultimate tragedy having all its principal characters die in awful ways, and most of them killed by the leading character. But it’s also the ultimate melodrama, it has everything, love, passion, lust, power, politics, religion, torture, murder, execution and finally suicide all wrapped up in the most masterfully composed music.
Principal cast and conductor Tony Pappano at curtain call (picture by Irina Stanescu)

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