By Lynne Gray, PhD
The Met will stream Tosca from their library at www.metopera.org on April 21st from 7:30 PM, 4:30 Reno time.
Tuesday, April 21
Puccini’s Tosca ~ 2Hr and 21Mins
Starring Sonya Yoncheva, Vittorio Grigolo, and Željko Lučić, conducted by Emmanuel Villaume. From January 27, 2018.
If it’s Tuesday, it must be Tosca! This one is Sir David McVicar’s dramatic new staging of Puccini’s second great tragic opera (composed after La Bohème and before Butterfly) and set in Napoleonic Rome. Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva is the passionate diva of the title, singing opposite the fervent – and frenetically boyish – tenor Vittorio Grigolo as her lover, the painter Mario Cavaradossi. Baritone Željko Lučić plays the evil and lecherous Baron Scarpia – the menacing chief of police.
There is definitely some interesting historical context here — although I wouldn’t recommend depending on opera for much accurate historical information. The opera is set in June of 1800 – a time when Italy had long been divided into several small, relatively independent states – with the Pope in Rome ruling several of the so-called Papal States in what is now Central Italy. After the French Revolution, a French army under Napoleon invaded Italy and took over Rome – establishing a Republic there in 1798 and exiling the Italian Pope.
In 1799 however, the French withdrew, leaving the new republic without protection, and so predictably, it was quickly invaded by neighboring Naples (aided by the Austrian army also out and about, and looking for conquest in Italy). Something of a police state was briefly established in Rome, but in May of 1800, Napoleon once again crossed the Alps into Italy and met the Austrian army (supporting the Neapolitans) at the Battle of Marengo (which is alluded to twice in the opera). This was in June 1800 – the month in which Tosca is set. That battle initially looked as though the Austrians were winning and good tidings were sent to Rome, but the tide turned late in the afternoon as fresh French troops arrived. Rome was once again made a republic (although annexed, of course, by France), which lasted from 1800-1814.
So, at the specific time of the opera, there was no Pope, nor papal government in Rome and Rome was occupied by Neapolitans (with Austrian backing). They had rounded up the seven (French supported) Roman Consuls who ruled Rome under Napoleon and made them political prisoners. Angelotti, the hotly pursued character at the very beginning of the opera, is based on one of these consuls. As the opera opens, we see Angelotti, having just escaped prison, rush into the deserted Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, find a key hidden there by his sister, the Marchesa Attavanti, and lock himself in the Attavanti family’s private chapel.
Mario Cavaradossi, a young painter, then enters and resumes work on his large painting of Mary Magdalene. The painting has been inspired by the Marchesa Attavanti, whom Cavaradossi has seen in the church but does not know. While he works, we are treated to the wonderful aria (“Recondita armonia”) in which he compares the dark-haired beauty of his lover, the singer Floria Tosca, to that of the blonde Marchesa Attavanti, who is as we saw, Angelotti’s sister. Angelotti emerges from the chapel and asks his friend for help, but quickly returns to hiding as Tosca herself enters to pray – and, of course, to see her lover, Cavaradossi. Their passionate duet – after an initial spat over the painting because it looks like another woman, should not be missed. Tosca leaves and Cavaradossi gives Angelotti the key to his own villa, telling him to hide in the unused garden well.
A Te Deum is announced in (premature) thanks for Napoleon’s defeat at Marengo and the angry Chief of Police, Baron Scarpia, enters searching for the escaped Angelotti. He suspects Cavaradossi is aiding the fugitive and would just as soon arrest Cavaradossi as well, knowing that he is a rival for Tosca’s affections. During the gorgeous Te Deum, Scarpia swears that he will bend Tosca to his will and famously says to himself, “Tosca, you make me forget God.”
When Tosca herself returns, he fans the flames of her jealousy using coincidently a lady’s fan with the Attavanti crest he has found (he says) among Cavaradossi’s painting things. He tells her he will look for her at the Palazzo Farnese that evening after her performance.
Meanwhile, Scarpia’s men have arrested Cavaradossi under suspicion that he is hiding Angelotti and are torturing him for information. Tosca is summoned to Scarpia’s study and told that the only way to save her lover from indescribable pain is to tell Scarpia where Angelotti is hiding. She initially resists but weakens quickly as she continues to hear his screams coming through the door. Scarpia then proposes a bargain – if Tosca will give herself to Scarpia, he will free Cavaradossi.
Scarpia awaits Tosca’s decision, and we are treated to her most famous aria of the opera “Vissi d’arte” asking God why He would do this to her when she has only ever lived for Art and love.
New news of Napoleon’s actual victory at the Battle of Marengo seems to presage what might be a happy ending for our lovers. Ah, but as in that battle, tides do turn several more times and there is still much more drama, deception, and plot twisting to be seen, and much more achingly beautiful music to be heard and enjoyed before the opera moves to its ultimately tragic ending. Cavaradossi’s second great aria, “E lucevan le stelle” is the final highlight to watch for as, no surprise, we discover Scarpia’s last treachery – the actual, not fake, execution of Cavaradossi – and Tosca’s fatal leap from the Palazzo’s parapet to escape the murdered Scarpia’s henchmen.
1. Sonya Yoncheva and Vittorio Grigolo in the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Puccini’s “Tosca” at the Met. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.
2. Željko Lučić as the Baron Scarpia in the Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle in Puccini’s opera, “Tosca” at the Met. Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera.
3. Sonya Yoncheva as Tosca and Željko Lučić as Scarpia in Puccini’s “Tosca” at the Met. Photo Credit: Beth Bergman / Metropolitan Opera.
4. Sonya Yoncheva as Tosca and Željko Lučić as Scarpia in Puccini’s “Tosca” at the Met. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.
5. Sonya Yoncheva and Vittorio Grigolo in Act III of Puccini’s “Tosca” at the Met. Photo Credit:
Beth Bergman / Metropolitan Opera.