We are now in a good position to wrap up our recap and review of the Met Opera “Tosca” which has excited audiences this season. Originally I don’t think I intended my review to be so long. In fact, I wasn’t even sure I would write a review. I loved the show, but, after all, this is “Tosca”, a very familiar and respected work, a standard part of every opera company’s repertoire. What could I possibly write about this opera that was new or fresh? I was also thinking, well, if I did write something, then what would I call my blogpost? With the exception of my Rosenkavalier review, my Metropolian Opera reviews all have titles along the template of “[optional adjective][noun] [verb] [noun] at the Met“.
For example, “Tchaikovsky Conquers The Met“, for Eugene Onegin. Or “Idomeneo Rules At the Met” Or “Turandot’s Tiara Shines At the Met”. That last one part of a series that uses verbs which suggest shining, burning, blazing: For example, Don Giovanni Burns At The Met, or my masterpiece “The Star Of True Love Shines At The Met” (we’re talking Tannhäuser of course) and then finally killing off that metaphor with Tristan Sets The Met On Fire. At that point I had no choice except to return to action verbs not involving arson. But what title could I possibly invent for a passionate love story such as Tosca? And then it just came to me in a moment of divine inspiration: “Tosca Kills!” And once I had the title, then I simply had to write the piece.
For those (international) readers not familiar with this American idiom, Americans (who are a very violent people) use the verb “kill” in the sense of accruing audience approval for a show-biz performance. For example, a stand-up comedian, after a successful performance, will leave the stage, bragging, “I killed them.” Meaning the audience. And hence “Tosca kills…” Many humble apologies to all for having to explain my little joke…
With that said, there is not a lot of story left, although still a barrel of amazing music and singing.
Trapped In Scarpia’s Vise
Now, if only Floria had kept her big mouth shut and not divulged Consul Angelotti’s hiding place…! Mario Cavaradossi himself, Mr. Manly-Man Head-in-a-Vise was holding up just fine under the torture. His screams of pain notwithstanding. He is not actually charged with anything (yet), because Scarpia has no proof against him. The torture is briefly interrupted when one of Scarpia’s henchpersons arrives with news that Napoleon has won the Battle of Marengo. Mario bursts out in defiant triumph: “Victoria!” He is probably thinking that if he can just hold out a little longer, Saint Napoleon will arrive in time to pluck him out of this torture chamber. Once French troops enter Rome, then Scarpia and his minions will be forced to flee. A new government will be put in. Mario and Angelotti, and their Jacobin comrades will be transformed from traitors into heroes!
Alas, Floria Tosca ruins it all. She can’t bear to see her Mario looking that way, with his bloody head screwed to a vise. She breaks down and confesses Angelotti’s location. The sinister Spoletta rushes off to capture the fugitive. We learn later that Angelotti, like Jimmy Cagney, refuses to be taken alive by the dirty coppers. When trapped, he commits suicide. It is not stated how. Knowing that he was hiding halfway down a well in Mario’s garden, one can surmise that he just rolled out of his hidey-hole and plunged himself into the well. Later, his body is recovered, and Scarpia orders it (the corpse) to be shot and hanged at dawn. As a lesson to other traitors.
And now that Scarpia has the proof he needed against Mario — that he was harboring a wanted fugitive — it is easy enough to convict him on the spot and write his death sentence: Mario will be shot by firing squad at dawn, along with Angelotti’s corpse.
Act III takes place in a real location in Rome: The fortress prison Castel Sant’Angelo, where a giant Archangel statue looms over the daily executions. In a backstage interview during one of the intermissions, Vittorio Grigolo (our Mario Cavaradossi) revealed that he had grown up as a young boy in Rome, not very far from the Castel. Hence, was very familiar with this striking work of architecture. And that being gunned down on the parapet was almost like returning home for him!
Grigolo narrated another interesting story. When still a pre-teen, just starting out as a singer, he had the honor to sing the part of the shepherd child (a boy soprano), whose haunting offstage song opens the scene. Grigolo performed this role in a production that featured the great tenor Luciano Pavarotti in the role of Cavaradossi! Grigolo reminisced that he was able to meet the great man and confide to him his dream of someday growing up to sing the Cavaradossi role. What an amazing story! And still another reason to watch these Live in HD productions, because the backstage interviews and other bennies are themselves worth the price of admission. (Which, in itself, is just a fraction of the cost of a seat at the actual opera house, just sayin’….)
Anyhow, to recap: Cavaradossi has been sentenced to death and dragged away to the Castle, where he awaits death on that famous parapet. He only has one hour to live, and he is about to launch into his magnificent aria about the “Five Senses”, each of which sense he connects to his romantic love for Floria Tosca…
Oh wait, speaking of Tosca, I forgot to mention that at the end of Act II she KILLED Scarpia. Yep, just grabbed that big ole steak knife and stabbed him through the heart. Not without first getting him to write out a safe-passage for herself and a Plus-One to leave Rome. Scarpia, who has been sexually harassing Tosca for most of the opera, readily agrees to most of her proposed deal. In return for sex, he will allow Floria and Mario to get out of town. He cannot actually pardon Mario, but, as he explains his plan to Tosca: Mario’s execution will be a fake. Blanks instead of bullets in the rifles. Mario must fall down and pretend to die; then Tosca can gather him up and the two of them are free to go.
We find out later — SPOILERS! — that Scarpia was lying about the blanks in the guns. Shocker. While instructing Spoletta (in Tosca’s presence) on the details of the “fake” execution, Scarpia practically goes “wink wink nudge nudge” to his henchman. The henchman gets the drift. Tosca falls for the ruse. Dumbass.
Now Scarpia is finally alone with the object of his sexual obsession. Yet the moment he reaches out to tenderly rape Tosca, she fillets him. To be sure, this monster had it coming. But chalk up one more sin Tosca is going to have to confess to her priest the following morning. “Father, forgive me, for I have killed…” Except that — Spoilers! — she won’t live to see the following morning!
Finita La Commedia
Meanwhile, back at the parapet, let us return to Mario in his mental agony… Cavaradossi is waiting on the parapet, with that big angel glaring down at him. He only has one hour to live, and it is shocking for him to think that, within a mere 60 minutes, he will no longer have the use of his five senses, namely: sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch. He has no choice except to launch into his great aria E lucevan le stelle (“And the Stars Shone”):
While this was going on, Tosca was a busy little bee herself. After assassinating Scarpia she rather efficiently (but offstage) put together everything she and Mario would need for their escape; as she explains to her boyfriend, in later exposition, she had gathered all her jewels, cash, and other valuable belongings (hopefully some new clothes for Mario), and hired a carriage that will take them out of Rome. She is even thinking ahead to the next step: She and Mario will board a boat and escape from Italy altogether. Not a bad plan, and it might have just worked, were it not for those pesky real bullets in the rifles of the gendarmerie.
So, we can wrap this up very quickly now: Tosca arrives at the parapet, explains the plan to Mario, gives the agonized man a moment of false hope. they express their mutual affection, sing a little duet, and then Mario is led to the side and gunned down in the firing squad. When he doesn’t get up, Tosca realizes with horror that Scarpia had lied to her about the blanks! At that very moment Spoletta and the other henchpersons rush onto the parapet, they have just been to Scarpia’s flat and discovered their leader’s dead body! And it doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to figure out who-dunnit. As they approach to arrest Tosca for murder, she hurls herself off the Angel’s parapet, foiling the coppers by turning herself into sidewalk pizza.
In conclusion, this opera probably has a bigger death-rate than Hamlet. Scarpia, Cavaradossi, Angelotti, and Tosca — all dead. The only survivor is Spoletta. In the sequel we will learn that Spoletta quickly switches sides the moment that Napoleon marches into Rome. Napoleon appoints Spoletta to Scarpia’s old job as Chief of Police. After all, opera singers and painters are a dime a dozen, but a good police spy — now that’s a real catch!