by Lina De La Torre
March 28, 2023
How is it possible that an opera that was written more than one hundred years ago be so relevant today? That question got an answer on the opening night of the opera Tosca by Puccini at the San Diego Opera.
Part of the appeal of that opera over the years has been the interplay between Tosca and the other main characters. She is a woman that is victimized by a powerful man, Baron Scarpia while staying true to her religious beliefs and remaining loyal to her one true love, Cavaradossi. The villain Scarpia is unusually cruel, forcing Tosca to overhear the screams of her lover being tortured in order to manipulate her into compliance with his wishes to ravish her. If this story resonates with you, then you are not alone. How many stories have been in the press recently about people being in a position of power subjugating others to satisfy their own personal desires?
When the moment came that she was forced into taking decisive action, the audience’s support for Tosca was palpable. The story is more complex, nuanced, and interwoven, but at its core, Tosca decides that she must feign compliance to the whims of the lecherous Scarpia in order to get safe passage papers to leave Rome with her true love Cavaradossi. Once the documents are signed, Scarpia makes an advance on her. She recoils and defends herself, (spoiler alert!) grabbing a knife from the nearby table where Scarpia had set up a romantic dinner as part of his attempt to woo her. There are different schools of thought on the meaning and intent of Tosca’s actions, but this interpretation is certainly among them.
Coincidentally, I was in the audience during another production of Tosca in November, 2021 and at the precise moment that Tosca defends herself, one woman in the audience loudly cried out: “You go girl!!” Other audience members reacted to this outburst with more outbursts in a kind of shared moment. Perhaps the long isolation of the COVID era heightened the reaction to this disturbing spectacle on stage. Perhaps the burgeoning “Me, too” movement contributed to this shared feeling. Who knows? But the sentiment seemed to be, “How dare this man who pretends to be so pious take advantage of an innocent woman who has done absolutely nothing wrong?” Regardless of the reasons, I think we are now in an era where the opera Tosca will increasingly be seen through this lens. There is no going back.
There are several important characters that contribute to the portrayal of Puccini’s tragic opera, which is punctuated with achingly beautiful arias throughout. The interrelationship between Floria Tosca, Mario Cavaradossi, and Baron Scarpia form a thread that binds the story of the opera. Michelle Bradley brought the role of Tosca alive with considerable dramatic ability and a powerful yet controlled soprano voice that projected the complex emotions that Puccini’s role demands. Marcelo Puente as Cavaradossi sung in a very fluent and convincing tenor. His rendition of the famous aria “E lucevan le stelle” (The stars were shining brightly) brought an immediate reaction of “Bravo!” and resounding applause from the audience. This aria accentuates one of the more poignant moments in the opera when Cavaradossi knows he will be executed within the hour and yet he confesses that he has never loved life more. It is a classic tearjerker moment. Greer Grimsley has performed in several San Diego Opera productions in the past and is known to the local audience. His very strong showing as the heinous character of Baron Scarpia was pivotal to the success of the production. While reactions vary, some audiences will boo a villain at the time of the bows and the louder they shout the higher the level of appreciation. The raucous mix of boos and bravos at the curtain is an indication of his success on opening night.
If you already love this stunning opera by Puccini, then you definitely don’t want to miss this production. For those who are not yet familiar with this work, currently ranking #4 on the list of top operas on the Operabase site, I recommend that you experience it if you can. The plot is very engaging and packs a few surprises if you don’t know all of the twists ahead of time. Puccini’s enchanting score carries you along and you can just sit back and enjoy the music, but I am willing to bet that you will be drawn into the compelling story. If sitting through more than two hours of opera sounds daunting for your first experience, there are conveniently two intermissions where you can take respite, have a drink, chat with others, or just absorb the experience. Opening night was well-attended and I hope that others can take advantage of the opportunity to see this production, running now through April 2, 2023.
Darlene Marcos Shiley
Lead Production Sponsor
By Giacomo Puccini
San Diego Civic Theatre
1100 Third Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101