A Puccini classic.. Tosca. One of the most frequently staged operas of our times. In this popular list, it’s the only opera about religion and politics, allow me to speculate. Consisting the opera’s most adored and popular two arias, Tosca will be always appealing to the audience. Premiered in 1900, even Italians adapted into the through-composed style of opera; meaning that distinction of arias, recitatives and chorus disappears. So, this is a Puccini whose in the influence of Wagner. And for my own taste, this is the true peak point of opera history.
Not advanced as Wagner, Puccini uses leitmotifs that he associated with characters and feelings. He doesn’t develop the motives like Wagner; it’s much like a signal of what’s coming. We have a evil motive representative of Scarpia that we heard at the beginning of the opera than resolved into fugitive motif with the appearance of Angelotti. My favourite is the torture motif. Because even before we begin to suspect things, even when Cavaradossi seemed calm while denying things, we hear the torture motif that will become gradually dominant with Scarp’s move. Begins with the woodwinds, it moves to orchestra, dominated the rhythm and at the end, it evolves into aria; and not just any aria, one of the most famous tenor arias of opera history: ‘E lucevan le stelle’.
We have two powerful signature arias but other than that, in fact the one I adored is the touching melodic orchestral music. We are not used to hear the best melody in orchestra, we used to hear it in the prima donna's aria. Here, orchestra is one of the main characters. In act 2, when Scarpia explain the torture to Tosca the music behind lyrics are definitely Tosca’s music. We hear her heartbeat raising, we hear she loses her temper and start to question Mario’s directions. As if Scarpia is muted and we hear Tosca’s reception of his words. The same motive thickens while they continue to torture. Ascending notes but steady rhythm explains our increased tension and lack of possibilities.
Just after Tosca accept the offer, orchestra has its aria. It’s audience’s aria. We don’t know if Tosca surrenders or will she resist; we just witness something dramatic; and it’s our reaction. After she kills him, we hear the melody again. She’s still a victim of her act. Especially because she was religious, her act is not a victory for her. And more importantly, orchestra tells us, it’s not over. Tragedy will appear again. This melody at the end turns into an aria when Tosca explains the events to Mario. It’s faster, stronger; because she’s not the victim anymore. Also, notice once a plot advancement was speech-like recitatives, here Tosca summarised the events audience already knew, and yet, so touching, so powerful..
‘Vissi d’arte’ appears suddenly between the motive we mentioned above. I always found it so independent as if we’re suddenly inside of Tosca’s suffering. So, it is not surprising that Puccini had also considered to remove this aria suggesting it’s interrupting the plot. Luckily, he didn’t and we have this wonderful aria in our repertory today.
Can we say that we have a strong female character here? Similar to Carmen? Dead at the end by their own choice, at least? For Tosca, she is strong, she found her way out somehow. But Puccini gave her a jealous personality where we rolled our eyes at the beginning. And it was her jealousy that triggered the events of her own death. Even flawed, we can be strong in important situations. She didn’t ask for Mario to abandon his beliefs; but again couldn’t be faithful to him to keep his secret. My final decision, not a celebrity moment for feminists again.