Saturday, October 10, 2009

Opera in HD and Tosca's kiss

Since last year, I have become a huge fan of opera by HD. The metropolitan opera broadcasts some of its splendid performances on HD and shows them in over 40 countries live. This week, the broadcast of Puccini's masterpeice, Tosca was seen on over 1000 screens.

Such a wonderful use of technology allows people like me to attend an opera at the met and listen to the world's greatest singers and some of the most creative staging ever. Today's magnificent performance of Tosca was no exception.

The stage was minimal and stark like the theme, but the singers were outstanding. The uber bad guy, Scarpia sung by Georgian baritone George Gagnidze, oozed evil as he sang Va Tosca, in the church as the Te Deum was sung and cannons fired. The HD performances have interviews with the principal singers and the set designers enabling the audience to participate. The soprano, Finnish singer Karita Mattila was one of the finest dramatic singers I have ever heard. Her entire body trembled with emotion and the way she acted the jealous scene in the first act is something I will never forget. I have never seen a more frantic or frenetic Tosca! The tenor who sang the painter Cavaradossi was Argentinian Marcelo Alvarez. Cavaradossi is a difficult character to sing, and many tenors have sung him like a hero. Cavaradossi does help his fugitive friend, but to portray him as a revolutionary hero is to misunderstand him. Alvarez sang him very convincingly as a romantic.

Of particular interest was the attention paid to Scarpia's henchman Spoletta. He was a small sadistic character who wore reddish round sunglasses and who sniggered and delighted in seeing others suffer. Far from being a mere backdrop, he was a character in his own right.

I sat beside a retired teacher as we both lamented the sea of grey hair in attendance. Opera is not taught in schools and people under the age of 50 in attendance were few and far between. I find this very sad. The beauty of HD is that it can reach many many people in remote and small areas, and showcase the drama and splendour of opera to a new generation.

In opera, passions are expressed in music and the mix of the acting, the soaring orchestral score and the drama make opera a sublime and deeply moving experience.

Today, I found myself cheering when Tosca stabbed Scarpia singing "this is Tosca's kiss!" Indeed, take that! Tosca throughout was a strong and passionate woman. I have seen performances where after Tosca discovers her lover Mario is dead, she breaks down and falls off the cliff killing herself. In this version, Tosca is confronted with Scarpia's henchmen. She runs up the stairs of the prison walls and beckons them to fight her. As they approach her she kicks them and shouting "I will see you before God Scarpia" throws herself to her death. This is much more in keeping with the text and spirit of the Opera. Tosca is many things, but a coward she is not.

Teachers, take your students to see one of these performances. Opera enriches our lives and allows us an entirely new vocabulary to express our deepest emotions, that of music!

The next opera is Aidia, star crossed lovers, monumental music, splendid arias including the beautiful Aria by the defeated Ethiopian King about his country, Egyptian splendor, a victory parade for the Egyptian military hero Radames, pharoah's daughter, a slave girl...a pyramid and battles...what can be more operatic?

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