Friday, July 30, 2010

Sunday Classics postscript: Cheating our way to the end of Act I of "Tosca"


The "Te Deum" in the famous Arena di Verona: Scarpia "reawakens as if from a dream" -- from imagining his plan to entrap both the fugitive Angelotti and the beautiful Tosca -- and joins in the singing.

by Ken

Last week we looked at just the opening 10 minutes of Act I of Tosca. We haven't even linked up yet with the great Tosca-Cavaradossi scene, which we investigated a bit way back when. The whole act runs about 45 minutes, and we've barely scratched the surface of its musical and dramatic brilliance and depth.

Maybe it will be seen as merely waving a white flag, but going to skip now to a scene I mentioned last week, in the final minutes of the act: the Te Deum that has been quickly organized in the church of Sant' Andrea della Vale to celebrate the defeat of the invading (and to republican sympathizers potentially liberating) Napoleon III. Baron Scarpia, the tyrannical master of the Roman police, has figured out that his escaped prisoner Angelotti, the deposed consul of the short-lived Roman Republic, whom we met at the opening of the act, is being harbored by a known republican sympathizer, the painter Cavaradossi. He has also figured out that he can use the jealous insecurity of Cavaradossi's lover, the beloved singer Floria Tosca, to capture -- in different ways -- both Angelotti and Tosca.

While preparations continued for the Te Deum, which is to be blessed by no less than the Cardinal, Scarpia planted in the highly suggestible mind of Tosca the suggestion that Cavaradossi has been cheating on her, and she has rushed out of the church, leaving Scarpia to instruct his faithful flunky Spoletta.
SCARPIA: Three cops . . . a carriage . . .
Quickly, follow her wherever she goes.
Without being seen -- be careful!
SPOLETTA: Very well. The meeting place?
SCARPIA: Farnese Palace [i.e., the setting for Act II].
[As SPOLETTA leaves.] Go, Tosca!
In your heart Scarpia nests.
[The Cardinal and his cortege make their way to the high altar. Swiss guards clear the way for the procession by dividing the crowd on either side of an aisle.]
Go, Tosca!
[Occasional firing of cannon begins.]
Scarpia has unfettered
the falcon of your jealousy.
How much promise
in your ready suspiciousness!
In your heart Scarpia nests --
go, Tosca!
[SCARPIA bows and prays as the Cardinal passes. The Cardinal blesses the crowd, which also bows in reverence.]
THE CHAPTER [i.e., the canons of the church, specified in the score as 12 basses]: Adjutorum nostrum in nomine Domini.
THE CROWD: Qui fecit coelum et terram.
THE CHAPTER: Sit nomen Domini benedictum.
THE CROWD: Et hoc nunc et usque in saeculum.
SCARPIA: Toward a double target I stretch my will;
nor is the head of the rebel the more precious.
Ah, those conquering eyes --
I would love to see their flame dim
in spasms of love.
The one to the gallows,
the other into my arms.
[He stands staring into space. The crowd turns toward the high altar; many kneel.]
THE CHAPTER and THE CROWD: Te Deum laudamus:
te Deum confitemur!

SCARPIA [reawakening, as if from a dream]: Tosca, you make me forget God.
[He kneels and joins fervently in the singing.]
ALL: Te aeternum Patrem omnis terra veneratur.

Tito Gobbi (b), Scarpia; Angelo Mercuriali (t), Spoletta; Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Victor de Sabata, cond. EMI, recorded August 1953

I'm not going to rehash my problems with this "classic" recording, best known as the first Callas Tosca recording. This bit can't in any case be compared directly with the corresponding bit of the EMI stereo "remake," also featuring Callas in the title role and Tito Gobbi as Scarpia, if only because the pacing is so much quicker. (I've already expressed my minority opinion that even with the vocal toll taken on both Callas and Gobbi by those intervening 11-plus years, I much prefer the later recording. Note, by the way, that in this CD edition EMI has placed the track point right at Scarpia's "Tre sbirri . . . una carrozza," rather than at the more logical orchestral run-up to this moment, as in our other performances.)

Tito Gobbi (b), Scarpia; Renato Ercolani (t), Spoletta; Chorus of the Théâtre National de l'Opéra, Paris Conservatory Orchestra, Georges Prêtre, cond. EMI, recorded Dec. 1964-Jan. 1965

Going in the other direction, I described Karajan's 1962 version last week as "for me the most audaciously and most beautifully conducted Tosca on records." He stretches this great scene about to its limits, but rouses his great orchestra and fine Scarpia (Giuseppe Taddei) to a shattering culmination of the act.

Giuseppe Taddei (b), Scarpia; Piero de Palma (t), Spoletta; Vienna State Opera Chorus, Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. RCA/Decca, recorded September 1962

Finally, I thought it would be fun to hear how this scene plays with Scarpia sung by a baritone of the size, weight, upper-range thunder, and general tonal juice of the 1962-vintage Cornell MacNeil. In a performance that featured Leontyne Price and Franco Corelli in their stupendous vocal primes as Tosca and Cavaradossi (we heard Corelli's "Recondita armonia" from this performance in last Saturday's preview), I have a feeling that as audience members filed out for the first intermission, the voice ringing in their heads was MacNeil's.

Cornell MacNeil (b), Scarpia; Paul Franke (t), Spoletta; Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Kurt Adler, cond. Live performance, Apr. 7, 1962 (mono)


We return to Gianni Schicchi and Puccini's affectionate portrayal of the young lovers Lauretta and Rinuccio, with a look back at their Verdian forebears, Falstaff's Nannetta and Fenton. Then in Sunday's post we finish up with the scene from Gianni Schicchi in which "O mio babbino caro" is a crucial component.

UPDATE: As it turned out, it worked better to focus on Puccini's relationship to his pair of young lovers in Saturday's preview, and save the backward glance at Verdi's for the main post Sunday.


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