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13 July 2005


Music: Giacomo Puccini
Libretto: Luigi Illica & Giuseppe Giacosa
Performers: Montserrat Caballé (Tosca), José Carreras (Cavaradossi) & Ingvar Wixell (Scarpia); Sir Colin Davis conducting the Royal Opera House Symphony, London, 1976

Ah, my first full opera. I really enjoyed it!

Ick - how banal of me.

Let me try again...

I won't go in to the details of the story because Wikipedia has done it already. And I've already talked about Puccini here. So this entry is primarily about the recording I listened to and my experience of it.

This version was performed particularly for the production of an audio recording, as opposed to a recoding of a staged opera. That made following along a little easier, since characters on stage left were in my left ear, etc. Also, it allowed 46-year-old Caballé to perform as Tosca, a much younger character, without sacrificing the soprano's world-class power and elegance in favor of a younger, perhaps inferior singer who more looked the part.

The experience was akin to watching a foreign film, with the eyes' constant pulse between text and images. But even with subtitles, a film still provides images without the need for translation (as one would experience while viewing an opera on stage). But listening with my headphones, libretto in hand, I had to read subtitles AND imagine what was going on, my brain flitting back and forth between the music, the text, and my own visualization of what was taking place. Imagine having to use so much brain power just to enjoy a lighthearted means of entertainment :)

(I also found my linguistic side straying to the German and French translations on the same page of text, looking at various word origins. Ah, the French word souper means "dinner" - must be where we got the word "supper". Very distracting of me!)

As for the opera itself, I particularly enjoyed the trio during which the villain Scarpia has Tosca's (literally) tortured lover Cavaradossi hauled to the gallows. Tosca is terrified and desperate, Cavaradossi is stoic and defiant, while Scarpia revels in his apparent victory over the lovers. Their voices mingle in something akin to a physical confrontation as each tries to gain prominence in the song and success in the story.

Then there was Tosca's famous aria "Vissi d'arte" or "I Lived for Art". Only hours before, Tosca's one flaw in life was a little jealousy over her handsome lover's strange conduct (he was hiding a political prisoner, not having an affair). And then, for reasons that are never revealed to her, she finds herself at the mercy of a sadististic officer. That man, Scarpia, proposes that she exchange her sexual compliance for Cavaradossi's release. This aria stands at the precipice of her decision, as she struggles with the ideas of fate, justice, and her faltering faith. When she only lived for art, beauty and goodness, why has God condemned her to the whims of such a deplorable man? While I can't remember the aria itself, its melody, the experience of hearing the words and the music together made her desperation all the more profound.

I was so pleasantly surprised by the experience of listening to this opera that I've already checked out Verdi's Otello. Imagine if my curiosity upon reading Bel Canto turns me into an opera fan!

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