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Concert Opera Review: “The Drama of Tosca” on the Opera Philadelphia Channel

Ana María Martínez in “The drama of Tosca”. Photo by Dominic M. Mercier, courtesy of Philadelphia Opera Channel.

The Opera Philadelphia Channel, created during the coronavirus pandemic to broadcast productions for private opera audiences from live productions at the Opera, produced a very accessible production of Puccini’s “Tosca”. This is the tragic story of opera diva Floria Tosca, whose fatal flaw in jealousy allows her to put the life of her lover Mario Cavaradossi in danger by making bad choices when questioned by the villain. , Baron Scarpia, the hated chief of police in Rome. This production, which is actually a concert version of the opera, is particularly notable for drastically reducing the performance time of this famous grand opera as well as providing excellent, thoughtful narration from Charlotte Blake Alston. In her skillful storytelling, she is able to guide the listener through ‘Tosca’ and make it a success for everyone, as in these lines where she presents the characters in a very personalized way:

“Floria Tosca, a great actress, loves Mario, a great painter, who paints large pictures in a large church. Tosca visits him with pleasure. Her love for God strengthens her love for her man. She is a passionate woman, like Mary Magdalene, in love with God and even more with her Son Jesus. Fire can be quite dangerous, especially if your lover is hiding terrible secrets, much bigger than those hidden in the portrait of Mary Magdalene, his painting.

This is a very successful example of how opera can gain new fans in a very engaging performance through streaming productions.

These secrets, of course, are a reference to Mario’s sympathies with the Napoleonic objection to absolutism that prevails in Rome. As for the opera company itself, a version of “Tosca” is offered without imposing sets or even traditional opera costumes for most of the characters. Instead, the opera is conveyed by narration, dramatic gestures, glorious chants and orchestral music. The music is rearranged in a different sequence in order to complete the compelling storytelling of the story and to highlight the more dramatic and melodic parts. For this reason, the production is aptly titled “The Drama of Tosca”.

When it comes to filming the opera, different camera angles allow a closer look at the orchestra and the singers, bringing a more involved and detailed landscape to the production. Because the performance is presented in an unconventional setting in a virtual format, the necessary changes have been made – the introduction of a narrator, as mentioned above, making significant plot changes between each piece sung, for example example, and the opera presented during a concert style. The changes of scenery, which could have helped convey the plot to those who discover this opera, are absent. Still, this is more than offset by these other modifications which make it a very effective introduction to the ‘Tosca’. This production presents a dark and evocative visual landscape, with silhouettes of orchestra members playing main characters highlighted by the darkness that surrounds them, and a balcony from which the choir sings in the dark. Fortunately, Tosca’s stunning costume remains to keep some of the visual flavor. Some stage lighting is always stylized in a stylized way, as red lights are used on stage to reflect Tosca’s love, jealousy and “burning passion”.

This reassembled and very narrative format means that a melodic aria (usually sung much later in the opera) kicks things off in order to capture the audience’s attention. This unusual aria is when Mario, played by Brian Jagde, sings “E Lucevan le Stelle” with all emotion and vocal power. The opening is placed after the opera was introduced by Alston. She also helps prepare audiences for leitmotifs, such as those that accompany the dreaded villainous Scarpia when he appears or is mentioned. Quinn Kelsey as Scarpia sings a very moving “Te Deum” accompanied by the dramatic performance of the Philadelphia Opera Orchestra, superbly conducted by Corrado Rovaris. Last but not least, GRAMMY Award-winning soprano Ana María Martínez in the role of Tosca beautifully performs a “Com’è lunga l’Attesa! Moving. which is one of the most famous arias from Puccini’s masterpiece.

“The Drama of Tosca” changed the visual landscape of opera by reducing the settings and introducing narrative interpolations and musical rearrangements in order to make up for the loss of part of the performance of the grand opera live. This is a very successful example of how opera can gain new fans in a very engaging performance through streaming productions.

Duration: one hour and 38 minutes.

“The Drama of Tosca” is available online on the Opera Philadelphia Channel and can be ordered here. While there doesn’t seem to be a specific time when the show won’t be available, it’s better sooner than later to enjoy this exquisite introduction to the world of Puccini’s ‘Tosca’.

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