Sunday 4 March 2012

Impressions of Tosca

By Adam Hincks, S.J.

Is this a dagger which I see before me? (Macbeth)

When Toronto's new opera house opened in 2006, I was living elsewhere, so I told myself I would see something there as soon as I had the opportunity. It took a few years, but I was finally able to visit it last Saturday evening when I and two companions from my community went to see the Canadian Opera Company's production of Tosca.

The theatre, as well as the production, were superb. Puccini's magnificently sumptuous music came all the way up to the fifth tier with remarkably clarity. In this particular opera, I was struck by how often the orchestra played alone while mute action unfolded on stage: the beginning of Act III must have at least five minutes of music with only a line or two of singing here and there.

One thing that made the performance enjoyable for me was that I knew very little about the plot, apart from its tragic end (hence, I should issue a spoiler alert here). We were seated near the back of the theatre, so when Tosca in Act II had just despairingly agreed to Scarpia's lewd proposal in order to save Cavaradossi from the scaffold, and then spied something on his desk, I wasn't able to descry exactly what she was looking at. I guessed that it was a crucifix. She was an ostensibly pious woman, and I imagined that she was turning to the cross in desperate prayer. But soon it became clear that what I thought was a crucifix was in fact a dagger with prominent quillons, which she promptly plunged into the villain’s breast (and then slit his throat for good measure).

Thus Tosca's piety came to an end, unfortunately not to return. When Cavaradossi asked Tosca to declare once more her love in Act III, the dramatic irony of their failed escape-plan became ineluctable.

I have an Italian friend who said that in his homeland he, along with the whole audience, always weeps voluminously at the end of Tosca. Our polite, staid Canadian audience was not so forthcoming. But though 'the fruitful river in the eye' did not flow, I felt the tragedy's cathartic effect. As we walked to the subway to return home, there was a lightness to our step.


  1. Indeed we do cry at Tosca, or at least I do. It is not so much the the end that gets me but the "E lucevan le stelle" aria in the third act. Just few words are able to convey all the emotions that Mario is experiencing: his love for life and for Tosca and the imminence of his death. Listening to the first few notes of the clarinet solo that introduces the aria is enough to make me feel a chock down my throat.

    1. Inspired by your comment, I have just listened to Act III again. Yes, that aria is truly marvellous. The theme that runs through the whole act rushed back to mind as soon as it kept playing. Now it will be in my head all evening …