This is the second of Plàcido Domingo's three film versions of Tosca. Not quite as career-defining as his Otello, which he has filmed six times but still one of his best roles. In this film, his sonorous tenor is ideally suited to the role of Mario Cavaradossi and his dramatic range is fully exploited, particularly in the final act where he is awaiting execution.
Tosca is played by Hildegard Behrens who appears to be slightly past he sell by when this film was made in 1985. She seems uncertain during the lyrical passages but comes into her own during the moments of high drama. Even so, after a slow start to Vissi d'Arte she still had me reduced to a quivering jelly by the end. When she stabs the evil Scarpia with the cry of " il bacio di Tosca" ( Tosca's kiss) she had me jumping out of my seat. When she screams, rather than sings "Muori dannato! Muori, Muori!" ( Die, damn you, die, die) I was quivering behind the settee. It is no surprise to find that she was still singing Brünhilde, five years after this film was made.
Cornell MacNeil is suitably evil as Scarpio. I particularly enjoyed his blood-curdling cry of "Tosca, mi fai dimenticare Iddio!" (Tosca, you make me forget God), that concludes the first act.
Puccini's elliptical style of storytelling is seen at its best and worst in this opera. He manages to constrain the proceedings to less than two hours only by omitting a major character. We see Cavaradossi painting a portrait of the Marchesa Attavanti, arousing Tosca's jealousy, but we never meet her. Incidentally, Cavaradossi's aria "Recondita armonia" (Strange harmony) is one of the best arguments for performing opera in its original language. In Italian it sounds great but, basically, what he is singing is "There are these two women. One is blonde and the other is brunette. I fancy them both but, on the whole, I think I'll stick with the brunette". Puccini's use of Leitmotiv is striking in this opera, perhaps reflecting the growing influence of Wagner. Not only do we get the evil Scarpio motif but also numerous other motifs indicating states of mind or happy memories, such as the little tune we hear whenever Cavaradossi and Tosca mention their country love-nest. This opera also contains one of the best examples of Puccini's use of an almost conversational vocal line to counterpoint a big orchestral theme in "E lucevan le stelle" ( The stars were shining brightly).
This is a magnificent production in which the stage director Franco Zeffirelli succeeds in telling the story more clearly than in any other production I have seen. Zeffirelli also designed the production and his reproduction of La Chiesa di Sant'Andrea for the first act is a triumph. I have seen quite a few of these Met productions now and I still have a problem with the way these, otherwise sophisticated, New Yorkers applaud the scenery but, in this case, the applause is understandable.
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