Puccini And Tosca Come To Town


By Michael Pearl

It is apt that Teatro Angela Peralta was originally built as an opera house when it opened in 1873, and that it was named for the great soprano, who became known as the Mexican Nightingale. Pro Musica is proud to present Puccini’s great tragic opera, Tosca, at the theater for two performances, on Friday and Saturday, February 10 and 12. This will be the first performance of a full opera at the theater for many decades and it is no exaggeration to say that the all-Mexican cast assembled by Pro Musica for these performances is world class.

Pro Musica Concert Series: Tosca by Puccini. Fri, Feb 10, 7pm & Sun, Feb 12, 5pm. Teatro Ángela Peralta. 100/200/300/450 pesos. www.promusicasma.com. info@promusica.com

During her lifetime, Angela Peralta never sang Tosca , but our Floria Tosca, Enivia Mendoza, is experienced in this role, and many other leading femme fatales of the operatic stage. Last month she wowed packed audiences at the Bellas Artes in Mexico City with her singing in Cavalleria Rusticana. I can hardly wait for the moment when she will plunge her dagger into the vile body of her would be seducer, Baron Scarpia!

Tosca is an action-packed tale of jealousy, seduction, torture, betrayal, murder and suicide set against the backdrop of Napoleon’s forced domination of much of Europe. With five male singers and only Tosca herself to introduce a feminine element, the opera is a testosterone-charged experience. No wonder Puccini wrote to a friend in late 1898, when he was struggling to finish his masterpiece, that he was “busting his balls” on the opera!

It’s drama of the highest order from start to finish. Unlike most operas, Tosca does not have an overture, so the curtain rises as the music begins with the escaped political prisoner, Angelotti, rushing into the church of Santo Andrea della Valle in Rome for protection from his pursuing jailers. Tosca’s lover, and Angelotti’s friend, the painter Cavaradossi, sung by San Miguel’s favourite tenor, Rodrigo Garciarroyo, is working on a portrait of the Virgin.

Much as we all love Rodrigo, he is a bit of a Mack The Knife himself, having plunged a sharp blade into our lovely Carmen at St. Paul’s Church last September, when we staged several scenes from that opera. The entire audience visibly flinched as he viciously stabbed her to death. He gets his come-uppance for that dastardly act at the end of Tosca when he dies in front of a firing squad.

Back in the church in Act I, we meet all the principal characters. Tosca herself arrives with a basket of food for Cavaradossi and later, the evil Scarpia enters and finds an innocently abandoned fan belonging to a noble lady. He uses this fan to inflame Tosca’s easily aroused jealousy for any women who go near Cavaradossi. The fan is an important element of the plot because it represents the duality of love and hate, anger and passion, loyalty and betrayal, and you will see much of this image writ large in Director Roberto Duarte’s imaginative staging.

Another important element in the church is the Sacrestan, sung by the outstanding Charles Oppenheim. This part is one of the truly great bass character roles in opera. Oppenheim has made it his own in recent years in numerous productions. I heard him sing it in the world class Tosca at the Bellas Artes in Mexico City last year. It’s a superb and finely honed acting performance backed by the deepest of voices that vibrates all the way to your soul. Oh, and we have a 22-strong choir, who sing the famous “Te Deum,” which Scarpia rudely interupts!

The duality of the opera is also reflected in the uncertainty and the shifting allegiances, which characterize every role. In Act II, Tosca extracts a safe passage for herself and Cavarodossi in exchange for giving into Scarpia’s sexual demands; but she kills him before he gets his evil way. In Act III, Cavaradossi is to face a mock firing squad before he escapes, and feign death after they shoot; but the bullets are real. Tosca believes the bullets are fake, but what does Cavaradossi think?

Beniamino Gigli, who performed the role many times in his 40-year operatic career, was one of the first to assume that the painter knows, or strongly suspects, that he will be shot. He wrote in his autobiography, “He is certain that these are their last moments together on earth, and that he is about to die.” Placido Domingo, the dominant Cavaradossi of the 1970s and 1980s, concurred, stating in a 1985 interview that he had long played the part that way. Tito Gobbi, another great tenor, who in his later years often directed the opera, commented, “Unlike Floria, Cavaradossi knows that Scarpia never yields, though he pretends to believe in order to delay the pain for Tosca.” Bear in mind this deadly conundrum as you watch this magnificent opera unfold to its tragic end, when Tosca throws herself to her death over the parapet of the mighty tower of the Castel San Angelo in Rome as the curtain falls.

Tickets for both performances are almost sold out. Any remaining tickets are available at the theater box office on Hernández Macías.

You can help Pro Musica continue to bring great musical theater like Tosca to San Miguel by becoming a Patron Member, from as little as US$100 a year, which includes a range of benefits such as free tickets and suppers with the artists. Part of your donation also goes to fund Pro Musica’s Education Outreach Program, which provides weekly music lessons to over 60 children in disadvantaged areas of the campo around San Miguel. Details of all Pro Musica’s concerts and Patron Membership are on our website, www.promusicasma.com, or contact us at info@promusicasma.com.

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