That's one of my favorite lines from opera. Rarely in any drama does the
heroine have the opportunity, as in *Tosca*, to plunge a knife into the
thorax of her would-be ravisher, while delivering herself of a line so
drenched in derision mixed with vengeance.
So, last night (March 18, 2000) I attended a performance of *Tosca* by the
Washington Opera at the Kennedy Center. It was conducted by Heinz Fricke,
the Opera's music director. Susan Patterson sang Tosca. Marcus Haddock,
Mario. Sergei Leiferkus, Scarpia.. (Janos, or anyone else, what was
Scarpia's first name again according to the Sardou text?) Stephen Morscheck
For me, this is an opera that has everything an opera is supposed to have:
love, jealousy, intrigue, oppression, rebellion, liberation, torture,
blackmail, attempted rape, cathartic vengeance, betrayal beyond the grave,
and suicide. All to consistently fine music, punctuated with memorable
arias and duets.
The program notes stated that this "production of *Tosca* commemorates
the 100th anniversary of the work's premiere in Rome. As a historical
footnote, the projections shown on the scrim at the beginning of each act
depict the original 1900 set designs." They were interesting to see as the
actual sets were quite different. The painting Mario is working on in the
opening act was here a colored three dimensional statue. While Philip
Kennicott, in the Washington Post suggested that "the statue...[might be]
meant to call our attention to Puccini's veristic leanings, by making
the usual operatic story into something three dimensional, fleshing out
a lifeless form into something more tangible, I wasn't buying into it.
The substitution, while not spoiling the production, seemed unnecessary.
Another change, also alluded to by Kennicott, is the immediate aftermath
of Scarpia's death. Traditionally, after gloating over her triumph, Tosca,
safe-conduct for herself and Cavaradossi in hand, leaves the room and then
a scruple detains her as she returns, places candles on either side of his
head, removes a crucifix from the wall and places it on his chest, all
consistent w/ her exclamation "E morto! Or gli perdono!" In this
production, there is no show of remorse on Tosca's part and Scarpia, not
quite as dead as we might have thought, drags himself to across the stage
to the religious statue to which he stretches out his arm in what may be
a last plea for redemption.
Mario was fine, but Tosca's real counterpart in this performance (maybe
in all; I don't think I've been to another performance of Tosca) was
Scarpia, the police chief, played by Leiferkus. At the final curtain call,
he evoked the first standing ovation and a bouquet, which he seemed to
receive w/ surprise. Attending this performance one week after *Otello*,
a comparison w/ Iago suggested itself. Like Iago, Scarpia has an aria in
which he describes his "credo" close to the beginning of the second act.
Quite different, they are equally detestable. I sort of compare Iago to
Goebbels and Scarpia to Goering, not that it matters.
*Tosca* is a tightly written work; almost everything in it advances
the plot, while, according to "The Washington Opera" magazine, the
Sardou play on which it's based is not. But the few interludes where
the plot momentarily stands still, actually the main arias, are welcome
opportunities for us to catch our breath and Tosca's "Vissi d'arte" upon
being confronted w/ Scarpia's scoundrelous proposition drew a merited round
of applause. There are brief passages of dialogue that isn't sung, and
Tosca's snarling "Quanto?" when she realizes that Cavaradossi's release,
if it can be obtained at all, can only be bought, simply oozed contempt.
The love duets in the third act and Tosca's heartbreak at the discovery
that it was only the sham nature of Cavaradossi's execution that was a
sham, were beautifully presented and there was no trampoline to ruin
Tosca's suicide as she jumped off the walls of Castel Sant' Angelo.
This concludes my subscription to the Washington Opera for this season,
although next Sunday, I shall be joining the Wagner Society on an
expedition by chartered bus to Baltimore to attend their opera's production
Next year's Washington Opera season will consist of: *Don Quichotte*,
*Parsifal*, *Il Trovatore*, *Turandot*, *Don Carlo*, *Le Nozze di Figaro*,
*The Consul*, and *Il Barbiere di Siviglia*.