What Makes TOSCA Unique?
Like all operas, there’s no shortage of tragedy, but TOSCA gets to them quickly. The reason we opted to see TOSCA is because of our connection to all things Italian and ancient Rome, where this opera was set in the 1800’s. The backdrop for the first scene is in a church, where painter Mario Cavaradossi is working on a portrait of Mary Magdalene. The backdrop is dramatic and stunning, especially for lovers of Italian literature, art and culture like us. Famous opera singer Floria Tosca makes an entrance early on where we get a glimpse of her jealous proclivities which naturally play out in song.
Cavaradossi’s friend Cesare Angelotti, who was a political prisoner and former leader of the Napoleon resistance, escapes from prison and heads to the church to hide. Cavaradossi says that it isn’t safe for him there but agrees to bring him to his villa, where there is a special passageway from the church, insisting that Angelotti won’t be found there.
Tosca’s jealousy rears its head again before the end of Act 1 but the ever so romantic Cavaradossi ensures her of his dedication and commitment as they sing to one another against the church stage backdrop.
Act II is no less dramatic because the suspense builds as Scarpia and his men continue to hunt down Angelotti and Cavaradossi, only to find the painter alone in his villa. To Tosca’s dismay and agony, they end up arresting her lover and despite torturing him, she pleads ignorance throughout. Scarpia’s corruption rears its ugly head as he makes a bargain with Tosca — in exchange for a passionate escapade with him, he agrees to release her lover from prison, telling her that there will be a mock execution to save face with the outside world. He also agrees to write a ‘safe-conduct’ pass however disgusted by the chain of events, she finds a dagger which she uses to kill him.
Like I said, the second act’s drama keeps you on the edge of your seat. Knowing how women were treated in Roman times in the 1800’s, you can’t help but feel a bit of excitement for her strength as she takes charge.
The third act is somewhat dreary and the backdrop too is dark but it’s still beautiful albeit eerily so with the dimly lit Castel Sant’Angelo as the setting. In his final moments, Cavaradossi bribes his ‘watcher’ by giving him his last (and only ring) in exchange for delivering a letter to Tosca. Before the letter is finished, Tosca enters the stage and after a dramatic embrace, she explains that they not only have a ‘safe-conduct’ pass but that she has murdered Scarpia. As her story continues, Cavaradossi learns of the fake execution after which they can safely leave Rome together.
Why Tosca trusts that Scarpia’s henchmen will follow orders especially after his murder is beyond me but it is Puccini after all and we all know that Italians love tragedy. It’s agonizing to watch the final scene for you know it’s not going to end well. After she realizes the execution isn’t faked after all, she runs to Cavaradossi’s side exclaiming the words: “it can’t end like this.”
It isn’t long before soldiers run onto the stage to take Tosca into custody for Scarpia’s death. Emotionally distraught and defeated, she runs to the fortress parapet and in the final scene, she commits suicide by lunging to her death.
Puccini’s Italian thriller has enough suspense to keep you glued to your seat through all three acts despite knowing the inevitable outcome. After Tosca’s suicide on top of the Castel Sant’Angelo, the cast naturally comes out on stage to bow and acknowledge conductor Eun Sun Kim, Director Shawna Lucey and the orchestra. No one expects what happens next and fortunately, tragedy isn’t part of it.
Soloman Howard who played Angelotti kneels down on the stage facing Ailyn Pérez, who plays Tosca and proposes. Does it get more romantic than that? Atypical at a traditional opera house, many raised their phones to capture the beautiful scene for when romance takes over the hearts of everyone in the audience, who can deny such a special moment? After all, romance is at the heart of Italian culture so it was indeed a perfect way to end the final performance at the San Francisco Opera.
Other performances are coming up later this fall, so be sure to check out their latest schedule which includes links to purchase tickets.
About Eun Sun Kim
San Francisco, CA 94102-4509