Theatre & Opera Magazine

My Tosca

Posted on the 20 July 2011 by Irinastanescu
My Tosca

The lyrics of the song come to my mind…”I had the time of my life”.. Well, let’s say that this second performance of Tosca at Royal Opera House was one of my best operatic experiences so far. Best cast anyone could hope for Tosca at this moment, fully supported by ROH orchestra conducted by Antonio Pappano.

When lights go out and the applauses welcoming the conductor finish, there’s another world opening in front of us. It’s up to each and every one of us if we enter it. But once the mind is open to beautiful music, nothing else counts.

This evening I entered Tosca’s world, with her love, jealousy, fear, hope. As this is not the first time I see this production, I searched for those tiny details that turned the performance from best to perfect.

I saw the first two acts from the amphitheatre, a place that offers amazing sound and very good view of everything that happens on stage. Looking forward to the first "Mario". The same words are uttered towards the end but the feeling there is quite opposite. Now Tosca smiles and makes plans. Loved Angela’s reaction to seeing the painting on the wall. First she’s nervous, which leads to that high note. Than she’s smiling and giggling, willing to forgive on one condition, to have Mario paint in black the eyes of the woman in the portrait. Have you noticed what she does after that? She picks up the can of paint, puts the brush in it and then offers the brush to Mario. As if saying ..come on… haven’t you heard me? People laugh, and I think this is the only funny moment of the entire opera. Well, they laugh before the words are said by the singers, meaning that most of them first read the subtitles then watch the stage to see the movements. But that's another thing.

Scarpia is a phenomenon from beginning to the end. His entrance is clearly marked by the orchestra. And this first act gives us just a glimpse of the future relationship between him and Tosca. Bryn IS Scarpia. You should have seen the look in his eyes when he realized that he can make Tosca accept his proposals. Then at some point he stays behind her and with a quick move he steals the red ribbon from her hair.

Well, everything about Scarpia is scary, both in first and second act. His Te Deum is more devilish than a prayer. With orchestra+chorus as loud as possible and you could still hear Bryn’s voice saying “Tosca, mi fai dimenticare Iddio”! Maybe the only sign of weakness he shows is when he kneels at the end of the act. But you could take that kneeling as you like.The second act is my favorite. Because of the drama in it. You should have seen the acting there. Both Angela and Bryn are simply wonderful in impersonating the characters. They both have a certain way of singing with their faces. The expression changes with every word. I wish I could be closer to the stage… but hey, there’ll be the DVD. There were three particular moments I loved. The first one is when Tosca realizes that she has to negotiate Mario’s freedom. She seats down in Scarpia’s chair and grabs the arm rests almost as if wanting to pull them and hit him when saying “Quanto? .. Il prezzo”. The voice, the gesture, the look.. beautiful. A little bit after that Scarpia tells her that she’s free to go but if she leaves she’ll only save a corpse. When this happens, they’re facing each other. He grabs both of her hands, releases one and rotates her as in a dance figure. In that moment Scarpia is actually smiling as if inviting her to go back and reconsider his proposal.
My Tosca
Vissi d’arte was a dream. Angela went to the statue in the back of the stage and rested one arm on it. Perfect position to enjoy the beautiful white dress. There was a moment of silence then she started. Can you imagine that the orchestra, even when singing in piano, is never over her voice? I could see Pappano, totally involved into the moment, with his hands gathered in front of him and looking left to right, being sure that the entire orchestra won’t raise the intensity of the sound. Vissi d’arte… vissi d’amore… I lived for my art, I lived for love, I never did harm to a living soul!... In the hour of grief why, why, o Lord, ah, why do you reward me thus?. And what does Scarpia do? He laughs at her and claps hands as if saying “you don’t impress me at all”. And this is how the director makes the transition towards the final fight. Muori dannato! Muori, Muori! and Scarpia dies. The words in the score are the same for everybody. It’s up to the singer to give them meanings. That last “muori” was said with so much anger and passion and fear that gave me goose bumps. And here comes my third favorite moment, visually speaking (because not in a million years would I have enough words to describe how their voices sounded like). Angela goes towards the back of the stage where the exit stairs are, stops, straights her back and slowly turns her head to the left, looking towards the huge body lying on the floor. What a look, gosh! This is the moment when the curtain drops. Wait.. there’s something I have to do. Applaude… sure, but something else too… oh yes, breathe.The third act started with a change of perspective. From amphi to orchestra stalls, thanks to my dear, dear, dear friend. So this time I could see the entire stage, the wing of the angel and the jump. Jonas’s “Lucevan le stele” was so, so, so impressive, with the incredible pianissimo. The cello introduction to this aria is something from another world. There are seven cellos in the pit. They sound like one, and all as piano as possible. I so admire so much care from the conductor/orchestra towards the voices. I forgot to mention the other two important tenor arias. Let’s say that the soprano got most of my attention, but Jonas’s silky voice can’t pass unnoticed. “Recondita armonia” almost opens the opera and his “ Victoria ”, with that long, long, looooooong high note, was like fireworks.The beginning of the act is orchestra only. From where I was I couldn’t see the instruments or the conductor. So the slow, whispering music seemed to come from everywhere, it flooded the venue. It was beautiful. I just closed my eyes and listen to it. Things happened so fast. It was a mixture of love, hope and despair. It’s so obvious from the acting that she’s sure they’ll leave Rome soon and he’s sure he’ll die and everything is over. This part is absolutely perfect for my ears: Trionfal, di nova speme / l'anima freme in celestial / crescente ardor. Ed in armonico vol / già l'anima va / all'estasi d'amor. It's the part where they sing with no orchestra support, perfectly synchronized. The ending can easily tear your heart into small pieces. That scream after he died, that "Mario", was so, so real and the effect of her reaction was multiplied by the music. Then everything rushed, Tosca runs towards the back of the stage, up on the edge of the wall, O Scarpia, avanti a Dio! and she jumps. The orchestra gives a powerful ending to the story. Everybody was like under a spell. I also noticed that there were no rumors in the venue during the performance. No coughs, sneezing, programs dropped, movement of the chairs, nothing. When the curtain dropped there was an explosion of applauses. I don't remember having heard something like this at ROH before. Maybe for Il Barbiere two years ago, but not quite. There were bravos coming from everywhere. Very well deserved by everybody on the stage and in the pit after delivering such a performance.This is how I saw everything. It's personal, subjective if you want, but I can't help it. My respect to those who put a small part of their soul in making the opera so real, so unearthly perfect.Angela, with all my heart, thank you!

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