A Fiery Diva
An Idealistic Artist
A Sadistic Police Chief
Text by Fiona Clarke Photos courtesy of Arizona Opera Company
Tosca is the quintessential opera, with all the best characteristics of this larger-than-life art form: passionate but tender love, jealousy, betrayal, evil lust, noble self-sacrifice, torture, death and heart-wrenchingly beautiful music.
At the center of this potent theatricality is an exploration of emotion transcending any specific time period – and that’s why it doesn’t need to be updated or transplanted from its Napoleonic-era setting. It’s an opera about human feelings and relationships. It’s not important to the story if it takes place under Mussolini or Mattarella. It’s everything that belongs to what we love to read, to see in a movie – how people love, suffer, live, die, are bad guys, are good guys – that’s what the opera is about.
As for the villain’s agenda, that too is as relevant today as it was then. Scarpia is a cunning scoundrel who, because of his powerful position, believes that he can have any female he fancies. Scarpia stops at nothing in his lust for Tosca.
“We are thrilled to invite Arizona to the first production of our 2017/18 Main Stage Season, Tosca,” says President and General Director Joseph Specter. “For nearly five decades, Arizona Opera has presented the people of our community with stories of incredible emotion told through the power of the human voice.”
Specter adds, “Certainly no opera fits this description better than this enduring Puccini classic, filled with drama, passion, and betrayal—brought to life by his lush score and a phenomenal cast of international-caliber artists. We can’t wait to share this masterpiece once again with Arizona.”
In a nutshell, Tosca features two tragic lovers: the artist Mario Cavaradossi and his temperamental but beloved Floria Tosca, an opera singer of great renown. When Cavaradossi hides a political fugitive, the lecherous police chief Baron Scarpia turns Tosca’s jealous nature to his own benefit. After he uses torture and guile to persuade the singer to betray both the fugitive and her lover, Scarpia double-crosses her by executing Cavaradossi. In a grand finish worthy of any heroine, Tosca kills Scarpia and then leaps to her death.
The opera dates from the end of the 19th-century. French dramatist Victorien Sardou had written a play for Sarah Bernhardt called La Tosca and when composer Giacomo Puccini saw her perform in the title role, he arranged for his favorite writing team of Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica to create a libretto, which was completed by 1898.
Puccini set to work with his usual absorption in authenticity, learning the plainsong melody of the Roman Te Deum from a priest friend as well as other churchly details. He even journeyed to Rome to hear specific bells and obtained verse for a shepherd’s song from an Italian poet. Ultimately, Tosca has become as popular in the operatic repertory as Puccini’s La Bohème and Madama Butterfly.
One of the composer’s special trademarks is his use of musical motifs — brief snatches of melody that identify an object, a person or an idea. For instance, Tosca’s magnificent aria “Vissi d’arte” (“I lived for art”) recalls music from her first appearance in the opera. Later, another specific tune indicates a knife, and the theme repeats itself when Tosca stabs Scarpia.
Since Tosca’s premiere in 1900, a few sopranos have taken ownership of the heroine’s role including Geraldine Farrar, Maria Jeritza and, perhaps most famously, Maria Callas.
Specter promises a top-notch cast. Phoenix audiences will be wowed by Kara Shay Thomson (November 17 & 19) and Marcy Stonikas (November 18) as they mix diva temperament and devout religiosity required of the leading role. Both sopranos are making their company debuts.
Rafael Davila (November 17 & 19) also makes his AZO debut as Cavaradossi, shared with Marco Cammarota (November 18), who appeared with the company last season in another leading Puccini tenor role: Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly.
In the role of the no-good Scarpia, Arizona Opera welcomes back Tucson native and international leading baritone, Gordon Hawkins ( November 17 & 19), as well as the company debut of Russian-American artist, Aleksey Bogdanov (November 18).
“Tosca is ripe with Puccini’s distinctively gorgeous and melodious orchestral music,” shares Arizona Opera Board Chair John Johnson. “Steven White, one of North America’s premiere conductors of both symphonic and operatic repertoire, will lead the orchestra.”
Maestro White has a long history with AZO, and this season’s production of Tosca will be his tenth production with the company since 2002. In recent seasons he has presided over productions of Rusalka, Don Giovanni, Eugene Onegin, Aida, La Traviata and Lucia di Lammermoor.
Tosca has all the ingredients of a 21st-century thriller: two suicides, one murder, political corruption, an execution and an official with a perverse sexual agenda. But Puccini wrapped the opera in a glorious musical cape that, as the tale unfolds, allows the audience to enjoy the arias and duets that make this work so beloved.
November 17, 18 and 19
Phoenix Symphony Hall