Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Lust, Jealousy, and Betrayal Never Felt So Good!

I ran away to Santa Fe!  For one night! To sit in that glorious opera house in the mountains and watch the drama and listen to the stirring, heart-opening music of The Maestro: Giacomo Puccini. Tosca. It was the closing night for performances of my favorite of Puccini's operas.  
I am in the gift shop when it starts to rain, twenty minutes before the performance is to begin. Great! I say to myself.  Living in the high desert of Northern Arizona, I welcome every bit of moisture that comes my way.  And here, at the world famous Santa Fe Opera House, I can enjoy the rain, the fresh air, the gorgeous mountains and the endless sky throughout the performance.  You see, the opera house is open: to the back, the front, and the sides. There is a roof and a few partial walls here and there, but mostly it invites and welcomes Mother Nature in all her glory.  Having been ill-prepared for wind, thunder & lightening, and rain coursing sideways in previous years, I am ready this year: long pants, hooded sweater, scarf, rain jacket with hood, and a blanket.  Yay!  Bring on the drama!
And drama comes in the form of Giacomo Puccini's first truly acknowledged Verismo work.  Verismo being true to life, real. La Boheme was not seen at the time to be sufficiently brutal to be real.  Whatever. This story is sufficiently brutal to conform to the definition of the time.  These days, however, with edgy, bloody crime dramas everywhere we look, it seems rather tame. And so welcome.
Not tame is the set.
For Act 1, the fresco the artist Mario Cavaradossi is painting, which is usually on the wall, is on the floor, or rather is the floor!  There is a cupola behind for we are in Rome, Italy inside the Church of Sant' Andrea della Valle, and embracing this set is the stunning backdrop of mountains, sky, and part sunset, part rain.  Can't take my eyes off it...any of it! 
For Act 2, the front half of the floor folds upward to reveal the rear wall, painted in fresco, of the Palazzo Farnese, where Chief of Police Baron Scarpia's office is situated.  
For Act 3, this wall folds back down to metamorphose into the floor of the rooftop of the Castel Sant' Angelo: spare, with small opening atop an invisible staircase, and above and behind a cupola that looks like that of St. Peter's Cathedral, which is just down the road a-piece from the Castel.  The movement and transformation of the sets are breathtaking. The sets themselves are creative, innovative, and true to story, and for that we thank Yannis Thavoris, whose work here at the Santa Fe Opera is consistently stunning! 
One thing this first work of Verismo brings from Puccini is his first fully-developed heroine: Floria Tosca.  She is not an ingenue, she is not a poor wretch, she is not financially dependent on her father, nor is she governed by convention.  She is a famous opera star, she is beautiful, she is richly gowned, she is an independent thinker, and she has the power to get what she wants.  And God help the man who tries to stop her!
The second thing this work brings from Maestro Puccini is a breakneck pace of the action, which is ignited by his opening bars: three ominous chords in ascending progression, which proclaim the malevolent force of the villain, Baron Scarpia.  Everytime we hear those chords from this moment on, we are terrified. 
Thirdly, Maestro Puccini brings to us his heartbreaking melodies, accompanied by equally heartbreaking lyrics, meticulously overseen by the composer, and, not so oddly, reflective of Puccini's own life.  When Tosca stands behind the desk in Scarpia's office in the tumultuous second act, having already been snared into Scarpia's web of psyco-emotional manipulation and sexual blackmail, and she sings the first line of this opera's most sung aria, "Vissi d'Arte, vissi, d'amore," (I have lived for art, I have lived for love), time stands still. She is all we see.  The music is all we care about.  And what more need there be, really?  This is opera, after all.  It is meant to transport us to a sphere beyond the beyond.  And it does just that.  
At this point in the evening, I want Tosca and Puccini to go on forever.  
Given that Tosca premiered in Rome on January 14, 1900 and that it is one of the most-performed operas of all time, forever seems possible!
Amanda Echalaz as Floria Tosca is commanding and strong in soprano voice and dramatic performance.
Brian Jagde as Mario Cavaradossi the painter and Tosca's lover is dynamic and disarming in his emotional delivery and tenor tones.
Thomas Hampson as Baron Scarpia brings his moving baritone to new levels of sinister seduction and Scarpia's appeal to frightening proportions.
After several standing ovations, I pack up my stuff and head for the car.  Thoroughly sated.
Thoroughly thrilled.  Thoroughly grateful I ran away to Santa Fe...even for one night!!!


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