Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca is a passionate and beautifully elegant opera, especially as presented by the Tacoma Opera Society. First mounted in January 1900, it was based on a fictitious events in Rome that happened during the Battle of Marengo, Napoleon’s conquest of Italian territories on June 17 and 18, 1800. Tosca is based on the melodrama by Victorien Sardou.
Before the production, my friend Jan Runbeck and I were toured backstage by Production Manager Theresa Kors. It was very exciting to hear the singers and musicians warming up. Every room we went into we heard and saw more of the opera magic in preparation. We even got to see Igor Vieira in the make-up chair becoming Scarpia with the magic of make-up master Make-up & Wigs Designer Evelyna Castro.
Guest director Bernard Kwiram made his conducting AND singing debut with Tacoma Opera in 2006. The music was lyrical and beautiful.
Tosca is musical tapestry with arias, recitative, choruses and other elements musically woven into a wonderful masterpiece. Puccini used Wagnerian leitmotifs to identify his characters, objects and ideas. Leitmotif: “A word coined by the Wagnerian scholar Hans von Wolzogen for a theme of easily recognizable melodic, rhythmic or harmonic identity, first used in connection with a certain character of incident, and which returns time and again, always with a reminiscence of the original association.” I recognized every time that Scarpia came on stage by his leitmotif prior to seeing him. It was the same with each major character.
Tosca (Kimberly Giordano) is a famous opera singer in love with Cavaradossi (Robert McPherson), a painter working on a portrait of Mary Magdalene. Tosca is lusted after by Baron Scarpia (Igor Vieira), the royalist Chief of the Secret Police.
Baron Scarpia’s sexual violence and political ambitions make him immune to normal human qualities: respect for women, or even respect or empathy for any human. He’s a true egotist who makes cruel choices about how he treats other human beings. In Act 1, his notable song, “Va Tosca (Go Tosca!), Tosca, you make me forget about God!”, is a terrible, blasphemous thing to say when the church had almost equal power to the government. Individuals don’t matter to him; all he knows is that if he wants something, he’ll use any means of persuasion to get it, like causing the death of Cavaradossi to control the lovely Tosca.
“The opera’s most famous number is probably ‘Vissi d’arte (I lived for art)’: Tosca’s part-plea, part-prayer, part-lament in Act 2 as she reflects how her previously happy life is spiraling out of control” and how she wishes she had more of that famous verve and confidence when facing Scarpia. (Tacoma Opera)
The costumes are very suggestive of the characters’ inner convictions. Tosca is dressed in a fine dress. It has a by a dark red covering that includes the sleeves and covers her back; the under dress is white. If you have ever seen a portrait of Josephine Buonaparte, Tosca’s dress is very like hers. Josephine made empire waist dresses the height of fashion. Cavaradossi’s costume is a white shirt with pirate sleeves, soft tan breeches, and a baby blue weskit. He looked so lovable and cuddly.
It was nice seeing Barry Johnson as the Sacristan. We had the opportunity of working with Barry on a tribute to local composer Art Mineo several years ago.
The set seemed a little drab for the dramatic story but perhaps stage director Noel Koran wanted to make the performers and the story the focus. I have to admit I missed the couch in the second act where Scarpia attacks Tosca, as Jan and I saw in a previous Tacoma Opera production of Tosca.
There are two more performances at the Pantages Theater in downtown Tacoma at 8 p.m. on February 14, Valentine’s Day, and 2 p.m. on February 16. For more information contact – tacomaopera.org
You can also look for Tosca tickets here – tacomaartswest.org