We are mesmerized by every muscle in Patricia Racette’s face in constant emotional shift as the score similarly travels in tempo and tone. This is “Tosca” up close as only the Metropolitan Opera’s HD Broadcasts can deliver.
To see Racette’s consummate acting so intimately as she sings this demanding title role is exhilarating. We similarly thrill at Roberto Alagna singing the famous arias of the Cavaradossi male lead. We inhabit a stereo mindset both admiring George Gagnidze singing beautiful baritone music while he simultaneously creates the ever so evil and repugnant Scarpia character. As the plot unfolds, to see him is to loathe him.
Puccini’s Tosca is the iconic opera tragic story with a diva at its center. Everyone suffers and everyone dies—but not until some of the world’s most beautiful arias are sung and the story is told.
We first meet Cavaradossi when he is at work on a painting in a church. It is then that we learn of his deep love for Tosca as he sings the beautiful “Rencondita armonia” aria.
He discovers that a friend of his, Angelotti (sung by Richard Bernstein) who is on the run from the police is hiding in the church and he hurriedly makes plans to help him.
Then his love Tosca arrives in the Church where we see the sexual chemistry of Tosca and Cavaradossi at work both creating and quelling her jealousy.
She is so jealous of a beautiful woman that he is painting that she insists he change her eye color from blue to brown like hers.
Tosca playfully dismisses Cavaradossi’s reminder that they are in Church with her assertion that the Virgin is most loving and forgiving, an important foreshadowing of her inner thoughts in acts to come.
When Tosca leaves Cavaradossi arranges for his friend Angelotti’s escape to his cottage.
Then, amidst choirboys’ angelic song in praise of a victory against Napoleon, the evil Scarpia arrives.
He discovers Angelotti’s sister’s fan and hatches a plot to use Tosca’s jealousy to help him track down Angelotti.
Tosca takes Scarpia’s bait, mistakenly thinking that Cavaradossi is two-timing her, just as the repugnantly evil Scarpia had planned. Scarpia not only wants to capture Angelotti but also plots how to make Tosca his sexual conquest.
When Scarpia’s men don’t find Angelotti, they instead bring Cavaradossi to the torture chamber. Tosca arrives and is broken down by hearing Cavaradossi’s screams as he is tortured, and she gives away Angelotti’s hiding place in hopes of sparing Cavaradossi, although that goes against Cavaradossi’s wish.
When news of a defeat by Napoleon arrives Cavaradossi summons strength to denounce Scarpia’s tyranny. That’s enough to get him scheduled for execution and to unleash Scarpia in the next round of his scheming to get Tosca to submit to his will.
Tosca resists Scarpia as best she can, but he puts forth that the only way to save her lover from death is to surrender to him.
She comes upon a knife and knows what she has to do. But first she asks God why someone as loving and innocent as she could come to this point in her famous aria, “Vissi D’arte”.
Scarpio tells Tosca that there will only be a mock execution of her lover and she is given a letter that guarantees their safe passage abroad after the mock execution. Then, Tosca takes charge and kills Scarpia at the moment when he positions to rape her.
Meanwhile, the tortured Cavaradossi awaits his execution in prison. He can think only of his love for Tosca and sings of his memories in the enchanting aria “E lucevan le stelle”, which is set to a hauntingly melodic line that we hear when we first see him in prison.
Tosca arrives and tells Cavaradossi of the mock execution and their escape and how she killed the evil Scarpia.
Cavaradossi sings of her lovely hands and person and how they were not meant for such an act.
For a moment a happy ending seems in sight.
But then the mock execution turns out to be real. Cavaradossi is dead and a distraught Tosca jumps out the tower to her end when she is chased by Scarpia’s men.
There—you’ve just read the story line in less than five minutes but this opera, with intermissions, is more than three hours. It is the absolute beauty of Puccini’s score that transports us into waiting for every note making the time fly. The superb acting of the three lead characters and the camera’s ability to let us see their facial expressions in fine detail makes this HD Broadcast so memorable.
Yes, live opera is special. But the intermission segments on these broadcasts are also priceless. We meet the athletic stunt man who plays Angelotti’s double. We see the massive sets being moved with choreographed precision and meet the Master Carpenter who shouts order to make that dance happen. We see movie clips of Maestro James Levine rehearsing and talking about overcoming his recent illness such that he is returning to the pit for Falstaff in the coming weeks. We meet each of the leads and hear their thoughts on what it takes to play their parts. It’s this inside track that makes the HD Broadcasts even more superb than the thrill of the up close cameras.
“Tosca” can be seen again on Wednesday November 13 at 6 PM.
For more information on which theaters are offering these HD Broadcasts and the remaining operas in the season visit the Metropolitan Opera Web pages on the HD Broadcasts.
Photos: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera