Sunday, May 13, 2012

Tosca (Movie Glutton Opera Edition)

This weekend marked the start of the 2012 Fort Worth Opera Festival!  Opening night was terrific, with a performance of one of the classics, Puccini's Tosca.  As usual, the Fort Worth Opera put on a fabulous, world-class performance.    My mom and dad joined Elliot, Kelly and me at Yucatan Taco Stand (yum!), then we headed downtown to Bass Hall for the opera.

Tosca, set in Rome in 1800, opens with Mario Cavaradossi painting the Madonna in a church.  He is surprised by the appearance of Cesare, an escaped political prisoner with whose case Mario sympathizes.  They plan to go to Mario's villa, where Cesare can hide.  Before they can leave, Mario's lover Tosca, a famous singer, shows up, wanting to rendezvous after her performance.  After Mario and Cesare flee, the evil Scarpia (with a name like that, he just has to be a bad guy!) comes to the church, searching for Cesare.  He manipulates Tosca into thinking that Mario is having an affair with Cesare's sister, who happens to have been the model for Mario's painting of the Madonna.
I can't say enough good about Carter Scott's performance.
A beautiful voice, a perfect performance.
Scarpia's deception works, Mario is captured, Cesare commits suicide rather than be captured, and Tosca is distressed.  Scarpia offers Tosca a horrible bargain: he will let Mario live and give them safe passage out of the country if she will succumb to his lustful desires.  She agrees, and he gives the order to spare Tosca by faking his execution, and writes a letter giving them passage.  But before he can fulfill his desires, Tosca kills him.  She meets Mario before his scheduled execution, letting him know that the firing squad will be firing blanks, so he will simply need to fake being shot, then they can run to her waiting carriage and on to freedom.  Since happy endings don't seem to be allowed in grand opera, the firing squad somehow didn't get the memo and used live ammo, killing Mario.  Just as Tosca discovers that Mario is dead, officers come after her, having discovered Scarpia's murder.  Distraught, Tosca jumps to her dead.  The fat lady has sung, and it's over.
The production featured gorgeous, elaborate sets.
Puccini based the opera on Victorien Sardou's play, La Tosca.   It's one of those melodramatic stories which make you think, why would it come to this?  Deception, manipulation, torture, suicide, jealousy, lust.  Sounds like a modern soap opera.  I was actually struck by the timelessness of the story.  The opera does refer to its historical setting, but it could easily be set to take place in any time and setting.  (I can't help but think surely it has been. . . .)

I was also struck by the role of Tosca's faith.  She is presented as a faithful church member and believer.  As she's struggling with giving in to Scarpia, first to give up information about Cesare to spare Mario from torture, then to sleep with Scarpia to spare Mario, she cries out to God in a "Why me?" moment that most believers can relate to:
I lived for art, I lived for love, I never did harm to a living soul!  With a secret hand I relieved as many misfortunes as I knew of.  Ever in true faith my prayer rose to the holy shrines. . . . In the hour of grief why, why, Lord, why do you reward me thus?
Alas, the Lord does not come to her rescue, so she resorts to murder, then suicide, to find respite.

While I did enjoy the performance, I was not as moved as was the opera lover we spoke to as we were leaving.  Several minutes after the ovations ended and the curtain fell, she was still dabbing her eyes.  Apparently she has seen Tosca performed many times.  "I know how it ends, but it still makes me cry every time!"

Even if you're not an opera lover, make time to take in Tosca.  Yes, it's in Italian, but English translation is provided on screens above the stage.  I love the step back to the past, the musical delight, and the pageantry that classic operas like Tosca give.  It's not too late to catch it; there are three more performances, May 20 and 25, and June 2.  Check it out!

Here's a review by someone who might actually know what she's talking about!

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