Monday, October 22, 2018

Tosca (an opera review post)

In my last opera review, I talked about the bel canto opera style. Well, I'm not the only one who doesn't, or didn't, like it. Verismo, which means "true" or "real," was, at least in part, a reaction to the bel canto style which dominated opera through a large part of the 1800s. Puccini is probably the most well known verismo composer. So, where last time we had Donizetti playing fast and loose with history and facts in the name of some "emotional truth" that he completely made up, this time we have Puccini paying close attention to facts and details and presenting a fictional story set against exact historical veracity.

When I say he wanted to get it all correct, I'm not exaggerating. The story is set against a particular day in Rome when they got news early in the day that Napoleon had been defeated. In fact, the news was false and Napoleon was actually victorious, so the celebrations that had started over Napoleon's "defeat" came to a sudden halt when the actual news finally reached them that Napoleon had won the battle. Puccini set his story at three specific places in Rome, actual places that are still there today, and reproduced them exactly. In fact, he wanted to include the ringing of the bells in  the church that part of the opera is set in, so he went to Rome so that he could listen to them and accurately incorporate their music into his score. There was no loosey-goosey "emotional truth" and re-writing history for Puccini!

Of course, none of that has anything to do with this production; it's just to contrast Tosca against Roberto Devereux.

As for this production, it was great. At least we (my wife and I) thought it was. Evidently, the local opera critics didn't think much of it, overall, because they felt it was not original enough... What...? These are the same people who complain when SFO stages a classic opera in some new way, as with the opera set in the museum last year (or the year before; I forget).  So you can't do it the way it's always been done, and you can't do something too original, either. What line is it they want walked, here? Oh, wait, the invisible one.

So my wife and I thought Tosca was great. The sets were stunning. Of course. And the singing...

Well, Briane Jagde was in it as the male romantic lead, and he was great. I know I've talked about Jagde before -- this is at least the fourth opera I've seen him in, maybe fifth -- and he's always quite good. Okay, very good. I enjoy him a lot. He's not one of those "stand and sing" fellows, and I really appreciate that. In fact, in this one... wait, hold that thought.

Tosca was played by Carmen Giannattasio. This was her debut to the role and to SFO, and she was also great. Giannnattasio and Jagde had great chemistry together, and they both had scenes where they had to sing while lying on the floor! Excuse me, they both had scenes where they had to sing while lying on the fucking floor! And if you'd had your eyes closed, you wouldn't have been able to tell they were on their stomachs on the floor. Do you know how hard it is to sing while lying on your stomach? Why don't you try it. And they had no loss of volume while doing it!

Yeah, I was pretty impressed with that.

All of that to say that we really enjoyed the opera. And, if you go into it without knowing the plot, it might just throw you off a bit. At least once. However, it is Puccini, so expect everyone to die in the end. Okay, well, it's not Hamlet, but Puccini may be the best at deaths other than Shakespeare.

1 comment:

  1. Apparently there have always been purists in the music scene. I'm sure the critics in the 1800s also complained about the sets not being "original" enough.