To the revolution! | Culture


The cover of the playbook reminds us with an elegant ellipsis that Tosca was born as a play by Victorien Sardou starring with great success by the great Sarah Bernhardt. Puccini already showed his interest in turning it into an opera in 1889, when he wrote to his editor Giulio Ricordi: “I think about the Tosca! I implore you to take the necessary steps to obtain Sardou’s permission before abandoning the idea, which would hurt a lot, since I see in this Tosca the work that I need, not of excessive proportions nor as a decorative spectacle nor to give rise to the usual musical overabundance ”. But then other projects crossed (Manon Lescaut, The bohemian) and Puccini’s operatic Tosca, as condensed as he already sensed before composing it, would not be premiered until January 14, 1900 at the Teatro Costanzi in —where else — Rome. It is, therefore, like Mermaid by Dvořák, unveiled in Prague the following year and one of the peaks of the Royal Theater season that is now closing, an early-riser daughter of the twentieth century, no matter how closely she links her two composers to nineteenth-century aesthetics. Do we need to remember, however, that Tosca did you have Arnold Schönberg and Alban Berg among your admirers?

Tosca It is also an opera with round numbers, not only because of its premiere in 1900, but because its action takes place in the span of less than one day in June 1800 (the battle of Marengo, mentioned twice in the libretto with different winners, it was fought on June 14), and it is precisely the historical circumstances that frame it that have shaped the staging of Paco Azorín, well known among us for having already performed in Barcelona and Seville, although at the Real It is now shown slightly renovated and with accessories, the most important of which is the figure of a woman inspired by the famous painting by Eugéne Delacroix Freedom guiding the people, which portrays the revolutionary fervor, in this case the one that seized Paris in 1830, but valid for any other similar historical situation. In it appears in the center a half-naked woman wielding the tricolor flag that symbolizes the ideals of the revolution of 1789. Azorín prefers to completely undress her and makes her appear at decisive moments of the plot: the beginning of act one (giving Angelotti the key of the chapel), the murder of Scarpia (giving Tosca the homicidal dagger) and the end of the third act (escorting her almost to her suicide). To finish off the revolutionary atmosphere, phrases in Italian projected at the beginning of each act extol its values. Does all this add anything to the central plot of the play? Probably not.

Carlos Álvarez (Scarpia) in the final scene of the first act.
Carlos Álvarez (Scarpia) in the final scene of the first act.Javier del Real

The staging is not, in fact, anything revolutionary, but its adherence to convention is almost appreciated, because the experiments with Tosca They tend to give very bad results, as happened in Aix-en-Provence in 2019. It does contain unnecessary gestures (Tosca caressing the prisoners after starring in the seduction scene and having killed Scarpia, supposedly in full view of all of them ) and also some incongruity (how can he refer to the beauty of Mario or how well he fakes his supposed death if he does not have direct vision of what is happening over his head at the end of the third act?). Nor is it very congruent that everyone is literally paralyzed when he enters the church and that, shortly after, we see him as a weak man and not as a ruthless repressor. With three Toscas and as many Scarpias, or four Cavaradossis, in the 16 scheduled performances, almost daily, an easy-to-assimilate production was needed with hardly any rehearsals for the new additions and Azorín’s proposal more than satisfies those requirements.

Sondra Radvanovsky rises above her peers because she conveys truthfulness and dedication in every sentence

Actually for what Tosca If it works, it is enough to use three great singers and at least two excellent actors (Puccini’s Cavaradossi is much less complex than that of Sardou, an idealist, a follower of the republican cause who encourages Tosca to read the works of Rousseau) . Sondra Radvanovsky rises above her peers because she transmits truthfulness and dedication in each phrase, in addition to singing admirably in all registers and in all dynamics. The public perceived it from the first moment and, with bad criteria, did not give up until he made him repeat his I lived art: Naturally, the encore was worse than the original. The American makes the three Toscas of each act equally credible: the jealous woman, the strategist woman and the confident woman, first, and then dejected. In an opera starring two artists (a painter and a singer and actress; Scarpia is, for his part, an artist of politics and repression), Radvanovsky is the one who best conveys the double metaphor. And in a plot in which the three lie to each other (Cavaradossi hides the truth from Tosca in the church, Scarpia and Tosca lie and blackmail each other, although the big lie is the simulated execution of the third act, which ultimately means death of the two lovers), it is also she who makes the pretense more credible. All this singing at the level of the best Toscas of the last decades and wasting personality in each phrase.

The tortured Mario (Joseph Calleja) and his beloved Tosca (Sondra Radvanovsky), in the second act of the opera.
The tortured Mario (Joseph Calleja) and his beloved Tosca (Sondra Radvanovsky), in the second act of the opera.Javier del Real

Joseph Calleja, a poor actor, sings so easily that he forgets that words have meaning and must be embedded in their dramatic context. It started off badly, with difficulties to level and an annoying vibrato, but it ended up more intoned in its second aria. Carlos Álvarez has great merit for having linked the comic role of Agata in Long live mom! and the dramatic Scarpia in Tosca. Azorín softens and excessively humanizes his character, prostrate and surrendered to Tosca while singing I lived art. Part of that attenuated ferocity and cruelty find translation in the vocal expression of the Malaga man, always a great singer, but here little intimidating.

The highest praise should be reserved for the musical direction of Nicola Luisotti, who recovers the orchestra from the best afternoons and imparts a lesson in verismo devoid of any outrage, but not without intensity. No one better than him drew the different sound profiles of each act, from the initial chords that describe the splendor and magnificence of Rome to the Puccinian genius to accompany the discovery of Mario’s corpse. The Italian, who extends his arms in such a way that the width of each bow finds its perfect correlate in the volume of sound he obtains from the orchestra, always knows how to find the time Accurate and precise timbres, equally attentive to his musicians and always eager to provide flexibility to singers.

Tosca, before the corpse of Mario, before immolating himself by throwing himself into the void.  Next to him, the woman who symbolizes the revolution.
Tosca, before the corpse of Mario, before immolating himself by throwing himself into the void. Next to him, the woman who symbolizes the revolution.Javier del Real

Who wants to follow Tosca Live on two giant screens installed in the Plaza de Oriente, you can do it next Saturday, with the same singers from the premiere. And, for those outside of Madrid, La 2 will also broadcast the opera the next day. The couch potatoes will also have their opportunity to enjoy the presence of Anna Netrebko (July 21 and 24, with her husband Yusif as Cavaradossi, that would be more) and Jonas Kaufmann (19 and 22). So there will be a bit of a revolution for everyone and although it will be the singers who will capture all eyes, the real revolution will be in the ditch.


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