Saturday, 2 March 2013

A(nother) Night at the Opera

Or day, to be precise. Not even matinee, as the schools' performance I attended the other day began at 11.30a.m. But every bit as exciting, moving, and thrilling as any evening at the Royal Opera House. And in some ways, even more exhilarating hearing several thousand school children cheering the conductor the the rafters, boo-ing (loudly, theatrically) the baddie as if they were at the pantomine but also listening with rapt attention to some of the most beautiful music in the repertoire.

If you don't know it, Tosca contains three of the most famous arias in all opera. (Helpfully, one in each of the three acts). Within minutes of opening we get the wonderful Recondita armonia sung by the painter Cavaradossi (tenor) as he continues his painting of the Madonna in the church of Sant'Andrea della Valle in Rome:


Rome at the time (which is - to be unnecessarily precise - the 'afternoon, evening, and early morning of 17 and 18 June 1800') is in turmoil. Napoleon - having first invaded Italy in 1796 - has crossed the Alps again and is marching once more to the Eternal City. Having been holed up in prison for the last four years, the former Roman Consul Cesare Angelotti has escaped, and arrives in the church where Mario Cavaradossi is working.

There follows one of those contrived mix-ups that are ubiquitous in opera. Cavaradossi's girlfriend (the eponymous Tosca) arrives at the church and assumes he's been talking to another woman. (He's not; he's been agreeing the help Angelotti (a baritone, thus difficult one would've thought to mistake for a girl) to escape. Then the evil chief-of-police Scarpia arrives (boo!) looking for the prisoner (and with more than a passing interest himself in the beautiful Floria Tosca). He plans to exploit her jealousy as a means of re-capturing his prisoner, executing the painter Cavaradossi and getting the girl (Tosca) for himself. Act 1 ends with the wonderful Te Deum as the citizens of Rome celebrate (mistakenly) Napolean's defeat at the battle of Marengo.


Act II takes place in Scarpia's apartment. Caravadossi's been arrested; even under torture, however, he refuses to betray Angelotti. Tosca, however, makes an easier victim. Hearing her lover's anguished cries from the torture chamber she tells Scarpia what he wants hear, further striking a reluctant bargain for Caravadossi's life (yielding to Scarpia in return). She sings the hauntingly beautiful aria Vissi d'arte about her plight, before waiting just long enough for Scarpia to arrange for a 'mock' execution (rather than a real one) of Caravadossi and sign a pass allowing Tosca and her lover to escape Rome before stabbing him through the heart with his own knife.


Act III takes place at dawn. Facing the firing squad in an hour, Caravadossi the third of the opera's great arias E lucevan le stelle - life has never been sweeter, yet he has (he thinks) to meet his maker:



He's right, because although Tosca arrives to tell his both of her deal with Scarpia and her doing away with him, Scarpia has the last laugh from the grave. There was never any intention to use blanks; the firing squad fires; Caravadossi falls and the guards discover Scarpia's body and come looking for his killer. 

Then this happens...


Tosca, at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, starts this evening and runs until July 20th. Catch it if you can. The production is amazing and the singing every bit the equal of the original cast (this is a revival) with Massimo Giordano as Cavaradossi and South Africa soprano Amanda Echalaz in he title role. 

But if you do go, don't boo the baddy!

1 comment:

  1. Tosca was the first opera I ever saw. Ahh the romance! This is what I'mm missing, thanks for this, I'm going to see if I can book tickets.

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