Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Tosca opens the Met's HD Broadcast Season

This Saturday afternoon, the Metropolitan Opera begins its High-Definition Broadcast Season in movie theaters around the world with a live performance of Puccini's Tosca beginning at 1pm. The new production by Luc Bondy features Karita Mattila as Tosca, Marcelo Álvarez as Cavaradossi, George Gagnidze as Scarpia and Paul Plishka as the Sacristan. Joseph Colaneri will conduct.

To find a theater near you, click on THIS LINK and enter your zip code in the BUY TICKETS box – click on “buy tickets” for more information and to find directions as well as purchase advance tickets.

In the Central Pennsylvania region, the HD transmissions are being shown at the following theaters:

Susquehanna 14 Harrisburg / 1500 CAUGHEY DR / HARRISBURG, PA 17110

The Penn Cinema / 541 AIRPORT RD / LITITZ, PA 17543

Majestic Theatre / 25 CARLISLE ST / GETTYSBURG, PA 17325

You can read more about the opera in my pre-concert post at the Harrisburg Symphony Blog when they performed a concert-version of the complete opera at the Forum in April, 2009.

Other operas in the coming weeks will also include Verdi's Aida and Puccini's Turandot.

With these first three performances, I'm doing presentations at the Harrisburg Area Community College on the Thursday nights before each broadcast – a kind of “pre-concert talk” for those who've never seen the operas before and plan on attending the movie-version of what, for generations, had only been available on radio broadcasts unless you could make it to New York's Metropolitan Opera House in person or catch them when they used to tour.

You can still register for the individual classes on-line or call (717) 780-2414 or (717) 780-2616:

Tosca – October 8th, 2009

Aida – October 22nd, 2009

Turandot – November 5, 2009

(Note: the radio broadcasts will begin December 12th, 2009, with Puccini's Il Trittico.)

Locally, you can experience opera LIVE in Central Pennsylvania with these up-coming performances, including an evening called Paris 1959 featuring Puccini's Il Tabarro (from Il Trittico) along with a Jazz Quintet, a "cross-over evening" with the Harrisburg Opera Association, at Whitaker Center October 15th & 17th at 7:30.

Capital Opera Harrisburg presents Saint-Saens' Samson & Delilah in November with performances on the 12th, 13th & 14th (all at 7:30) at the St. Thomas Room, 5901 Linglestown Rd, in the east-shore suburbs of Harrisburg and Sunday the 15th (at 3pm) at the auditorium of the William Penn Campus Auditorium. They will be presenting two one-act operas from Puccini's Il Trittico - Il Tabarro & Suor Angelica - in April, 2010.

Center Stage Opera presents Puccini's Madame Butterfly in November as well with perfomances the 5th & 7th at 7:30 & 8th at 3pm at Camp Hill United Methodist Church, again Nov. 13th at Hanover's Eichelberger Arts Center and on Nov. 14th at the Women's Club of York on E. Market Street, each at 7:30.

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You can read a plot synopsis of Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera's website.

Much loved by audiences around the world, it has been dismissed by some critics, like Joseph Kerman who famously referred to it as "a shabby little shocker." George Bernard Shaw, as a critic, didn't care for the plot contrivances in Sardou's play and dismissed it as "Sardoodledom." That hasn't kept it from being one of the most popular operas of all time.

Based on Victorien Sardou's drama, La Tosca, and on historical events, Puccini's opera is set on June 14th, 1800, when the city of Rome is gripped by political turmoil, in the years following the French Revolution, with the impending arrival of French troops who are intent on setting up a French-style Republic in Rome.

Cast of Characters (not necessarily in order of appearance):

Cesare Angelotti (bass) – the brother of the Countess Attavanti, an escaped political prisoner who goes to hide at the family chapel at the Cathedral of Sant'Andrea della valle where his sister has left him a disguise; there, he meets his friend

Mario Cavaradossi (tenor) – a painter who is working on a painting of Mary Magdalen (which is really a portrait of Countess Attavanti) for the chapel at the time Angelotti has escaped; Mario, also a Republican sympathizer, is in love with

Floria Tosca (soprano) – a famous opera singer in Rome, a true Diva and easily jealous, who is in love with Cavaradossi and lusted after by one of her biggest (and certainly “most powerful”) fans,

Baron Scarpia (baritone) – the Chief of Police in Rome who, with his network of spies, has been given the task to root out the Republican sympathizers in the city.

A Sacristan at the Cathedral (bass), usually depicted as a bumbling old priest in Act I who watches over Cavaradossi as he paints (he disapproves) and prepares the choirboys for the Te Deum that is soon to be celebrated upon receiving the news of the monarchist victory over the French troops of Napoleon.

Spoletta (tenor) – one of Scarpia's spies
Sciarrone (bass) – a police officer
A Young Shepherd Boy (boy soprano) – in Act III
A Jailer (bass) – in Act III

(Non-speaking appearances by a Cardinal, an executioner, a judge & various police agents)

The Met's cast includes Finnish soprano Karita Mattila as Tosca, Marcelo Alvarez as Cavaradossi, and George Gagnidze as Scarpia. Paul Plishka sings the role of the Sacristan.

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Act I takes place at the Church of Sant'Andrea della Valle (St. Andrew of the Valley), a church begun in 1591 that was then in a suburban park but is now part of a congested area opposite the vast Victor Emanuel Monument. This view was photographed from the monument toward the church with the dome of the Vatican's St. Peter's Basilica in the background. Its dome is the 2nd largest in Rome after St. Peter's and the inside (seen here) is vast and ornate.

Act II takes place at the Farnese Palace, not far away. Here, you can see some of the ceiling frescos from 1602.

Act III takes place on the roof of the Castel Sant'Angelo, once a Vatican fortress, and it is from here that Tosca is supposed to jump to her death, landing in the Tiber below, though she'd also have to jump several hundred yards to the side to be able to actually do that...

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Here is a clip with two great singers from the mid-20th Century, Maria Callas & George London in the final scene from Act II, part of a 1956 TV broadcast (on the Ed Sullivan Show, no less!) with Dmitri Mitropoulous conducting.

At the Farnese Palace, Tosca has sung a special performance of a cantata celebrating the victory over the French, where Scarpia is having a “poor little dinner.” In this video clip, Tosca arrives and the Chief of Police proposes to release her lover, Cavaradossi – not for money (too venal) but the implication is clear: he has had a passion for Tosca for some time now. A military escort is heard from the street below and he reminds her that it is her choice, now, whether or not Mario has only another hour to live. She sings the aria “Vissi d'arte” (I have lived for art and for love and have never done any living creature harm). In this cut version (eliminating the scene where Scarpia explains to his henchman how Cavaradossi's execution is to be faked), Tosca, agreeing to Scarpia's demands, asks for a safe conduct for her and Mario. As he writes out the paper, she finds a knife on the table. When Scarpia goes to take her in his arms, Tosca stabs him - “suffocate on your own blood! Die!” - and as he dies, he falls to the floor, his arms outstretched. “Before him, all Rome trembled!” She is about to leave but then places two candles on either side of him, a crucifix on his chest before she hurries out of the room.

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Watch Tosca in Music | View More Free Videos Online at
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The newest Met production by Luc Bondy was not well received by the Met's opening night audience last month (in fact, the director was booed off the stage). It replaces the traditional Zeferelli production which has been playing in New York for over 20 years and has been viewed by most traditionalists as untouchable. You can read a review from England's “The Guardian” here:

“There was some egregious silliness to the Bondy version, which no doubt goes some way to explain the cat calls. Cavaradossi's painting of Mary Magdalene upon which he is working at the start of the opera looks like a Mills & Boon cover portrait – all soft edges and flowing hair, and, horror of horrors, her left breast is showing. In act two Scarpia is being pleasured by a courtesan kneeling between his legs, a wholly gratuitous addition to Puccini's portrayal of an evil torturer who exudes suppressed sexuality in any case.”

For another thing, according to the New York Times review by Anthony Tommasini, two important bits of traditional staging are tampered with:

“Mr. Bondy’s high-concept staging featured stark, spare, cold sets and dispensed entirely with many of the familiar theatrical touches that audiences count on: Tosca placed no candles by the body of the villain Scarpia after murdering him, and did not exactly leap to her death at the end.”

That said, critic Ed Pilkington of the Guardian continues:

“The singing was mostly glorious. Karita Mattila, the Finnish soprano, captured the coquettish jealousy of the diva Tosca as well as her passion, though in the later acts she struggled a bit on the higher notes. Marcelo Álvarez, a tenor from Argentina, was a fine Cavaradossi who rendered a sweet and sublime E lucevan le stelle; and George Ganidze [sic - it's spelled Gagnidze], a baritone from Georgia, was a very accomplished and dark Scarpia, particularly as he stepped in at short notice due to sickness.”

Basically, I've described Bondy's production, without apologies to Joseph Kerman, as “a shabby little shocker”...

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Here is a great video of the complete Second Act of Franco Zeferelli's traditional presentation of Tosca filmed at London's Covent Garden with Maria Callas as Tosca and Tito Gobbi as Scarpia, recorded in 1962.

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Even in a concert version, Scarpia's evil is obvious at the end of Act I, lusting after Tosca while the choir performs a Te Deum in the background. Here, Samuel Ramey sings the Te Deum in a 2000 Richard Tucker Memorial Concert. The photo (left) is of Jean-Pierre Ponelle's realistic set for the Te Deum that concludes Act I.

- Dr. Dick

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