May 20, 2011


Victorien Sardou, along with Eugene Scribe, was famous for the “well made play.” George Bernard Shaw saw his play Tosca, and ridiculed it, saying that it should be an opera. I don’t know if Puccini was aware of Shaw’s remark, but he did adapt the play into an opera.

The action centers around Tosca, a devout Catholic woman, who is in love with a painter. When Napoleon wins the Battle of Marengo against Neapolitan forces occupying Rome. The painter and Tosca become involved in the attempted rescue of a Roman consul. (Rome at this period had reverted to a republican form of government, and had seven consuls.) Needless to say, since this is a serious opera, no one lives happily ever after. In fact, and I don’t think this is a major spoiler given the nature of opera, nobody lives.

So there is the question of performance. My recollection of this one is that while Karita Mattila is voluptuous, and has a great voice, her acting seems to be a bit over the top. She slashes a portrait of a supposed rival as Mary Magdalene, and there are bits where her actions are inappropriate. I think that’s one of the weaknesses of this production. Neither Tosca’s devoutness nor her love are emphasized properly, and her eventual despair and death are not properly prepared for.

This is a production that appeared on PBS as part of the Live From the Met series. So it has some of the drawbacks of a recording of a live performance, including the scene changes, and the interviews between acts with the singers.

The singer, George Gagnidze, for Scarpia is suitably villainous.

People on Amazon have given this production a fair number of unfavorable reviews. Part of the concern is with details of the production, One person commented on a bit of stage business that seems to involve Scarpia in actions that are insulting to the Virgin Mary. I have to confess that I missed that piece of business.

It’s probably a better idea to buy the CD rather than this video production. You can hear the singing, and avoid the bad production values. You can also check around for other Tosca