© Man Ray 2015 Trust / ADAGP — Bildrecht, Wien — 2020, Photo: Telimage, Paris
Supported by SWAROVSKI
Alexander Köpeczi is a participant of the Young Singers Project.
“Va! Tosca! / Nel tuo cuor s’annida Scarpia!”
Scarpia nests in your heart!’
Puccini’s Tosca is an outstanding work in many respects, and the precision and economy with which the composer transforms highly emotional material into sheer musical suspense is unique. Condensed into two hours of music, the fictive action is set at a precise historical juncture and in three historical places in Rome that can still be visited today: the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, the Palazzo Farnese and Castel Sant’Angelo. With the three main protagonists of his opera — Floria Tosca, Mario Cavaradossi and their ruthless adversary Scarpia — Puccini created iconic characters of interpretative art: for generations, opera lovers have associated legendary performances by their favourite singers with the unforgettable melodies of ‘E lucevan le stelle’, ‘Vissi d’arte’ and the overwhelming strains of ‘Va! Tosca!’ rising against the background of the Te Deum in the finale of Act I.
The painter Cavaradossi, whose Republican sympathies lead him to conceal the escaped revolutionary Angelotti, falls into the clutches of Scarpia, the Chief of Police. Scarpia for his part exploits the situation to offer a brutal deal to Cavaradossi’s lover, the famous singer Floria Tosca: if Tosca will surrender herself to his desires he will spare Cavaradossi’s life. In order to save her lover Tosca pretends to agree to his terms… A drama of love, jealousy, sadistic desire and psychological and physical violence unfolds within a field of tension delineated by abuse of power and intrigue, between the poles of art, religion and politics. But it’s the music ‘that drives this dark story forward, repeatedly giving it surprising twists and turns within just a few bars — like an effective film noir soundtrack’, explains director Michael Sturminger. ‘Tosca is about individuals in extreme situations. There’s perhaps no other opera that so precisely and uncompromisingly takes the most intensive human emotions on a continuous rollercoaster ride, with the music drawing the listener in with an irresistible force. At its core, the story of the relationships between the protagonists is inextricably bound up with the story of power and the theme of “the artist versus state repression”; politics functions as leverage for emotional states, and all this is embedded in an evil, politico-religious power play that brutally and cynically sacrifices individuals to the interests of the ruling class.’
For all the opera’s dramatic effect, Puccini never loses sight of his enlightened message: torture, murder, repression are the inevitable consequences of unchecked power and despotism, whether political or religious in nature. The composer spares his audience none of the shocking detail. Only two years before the premiere a massacre had taken place in Milan when one of the king’s generals ordered his troops to open fire on their compatriots, who were demonstrating against rising bread prices, killing 82 of them. Those attending the first performance of Puccini’s opera knew on which side of the political divide to place the figure of Scarpia and how close at hand injustice was.
Universal principles of human behaviour can be recognized from the figures and their conflicts. ‘The protagonists in Tosca occupy historical spaces under the burden of history, as much today as at the time when the opera was written. In being brought into a present-day setting, the archaic power of the work is not nullified by modern banality but seen with contemporary individuals in a new light cast on a familiar classical masterpiece.’
Michael Sturminger, Jürgen Kesting
Translation: Sophie Kidd