Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Puccini: Tosca – Zurich 2009 (Part 1: Life is Art)

Life is Art and Art is Life for Floria Tosca. Her actions and reactions to everything that happens around her all are based on her theatrical experience. She is always on stage. This is Robert Carsen’s concept of Tosca from beginning to end. The political intrigue, and even her love and jealousy are secondary. She truly loves Mario, but Tosca is the main character in her own drama.
Carsen also feels that once Scarpia and Mario, Tosca’s two most ardent admirers (her public), are gone, that life has no more meaning for her, and this is why she chooses suicide. I understand his theory, but I believe the fact that Tosca is about to be arrested for murder, plus her general disillusionment, has something to do with her final leap, too.

Robert Carsen often likes to remind us we are watching an opera; there are many coup d’ theatre touches here (flowers, the Tosca playbill, the final action that I won't reveal here, etc.), as in his Capriccio and Rinaldo. He also seems to like rows of things: beds in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, desks (and beds) in Rinaldo, and chairs in Tosca. But Carsen cannot be faulted for his careful Personenregie - the work he does with the singers.
The backdrop for Act 1 is the theater curtain. (Or rather, a theater curtain, not the Zurich Opera House curtain.) I don’t mind the non-literal setting too much.  There is some disconnect in Act 1, as the text reminds us continually that we are in church, when clearly we are not. However, the theater or opera house is a place of worship in a sense. (Church can be drama too, but I think that’s a different blog post.)

But unless one gets too wrapped up in being literal, or willfully misunderstands the intent here, I think most viewers would find Carsen’s “Come la Tosca in teatro” concept to be convincing. Even with ushers, audience members, and tiny ballerinas dashing around, Act 1 is much more engaging, both musically and dramatically, than many productions (including the latest Met broadcast—no statue-groping here!)

Scarpia seems to be the evil theater manager in this production, so in Act 2 his space is more administrative office (backstage, or off in the wings, or perhaps up on the tenth floor of the theater) than police office. One of Mario’s paintings is there. (I don’t think it’s the painting, but I need to check again.) The brick wall and evocative use of light and shadow lend both warmth and impersonality to the setting. And Act 3 plays out well with the plain flooring and brick wall. Actually the brick wall is quite effective throughout the opera. 
I admire director Robert Carsen’s Personenregie. Each character is delineated and has motivation, thoughts, a back story, and things to do. There is no mere standing about when others are singing. Watch Scarpia (Thomas Hampson) during Vissi d’arte. He watches and listens, and seethes. There is so much going on in his mind as Tosca sings.

Watch Tosca (Emily Magee) and Mario (Jonas Kaufmann) as they react, interact, and respond to one another in their Act 1 scene. They are so clearly in love, with flirty banter and little games. The hint of her jealousy is there but it’s part of the way they communicate. They are a sexy, believable couple.


Of course regardless of the theatrical concept, Tosca really is all about the Soprano, the Tenor, and the Baritone. I'll talk more about them in the next post.

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