In the second act of the Italian opera Tosca, Baron Scarpia tells Floria Tosca: “You make me forget God.” Since Baron Scarpia is the villain, this lets you know that something is not going very well for Tosca. Before I continue, however, let me give you a second to realize there are spoilers ahead. If you do not want to know any of Tosca‘s plot, do not read this review. Return when you have become familiar with the opera, if you are so inclined. I, after all, attended an opera besides Gilbert and Sullivan for the first time with Seattle Opera’s production of Tosca.
It was vibrant in its performances, staging and costuming. I think that, because it was actually filled with colors in some scenes, the choice contrasted the elemental plot: good vs. evil. Some parts were bound to be pageantic – there’s no getting around that when a Catholic service is involved – but the character of Tosca’s costumes, including a blue gown for act one, and red and white one for act two, fit what was happening. And, in a weird way, the black capes worn by Scarpia and his henchmen made a bright impression. Plus, these guys really were pretty scary. This brings me to the scenestealer character of Scarpia.
Everyone loves a good villain, right? At least I do. Good characters can seem mindless, or worse, mindful of just how much they love each other – and constantly telling everyone. Tosca and her painter lover Cavaradossi fall somewhat into the latter category. The two leads, Mary Elizabeth Williams and Stefano Secco were amazing. (I may not know all the details of operatic voices. I know the ranges. That tends to help. As with other types of singing, beyond that, I suppose your preference between one opera singer and another is just a preference).
Greer Grimsley as Scarpia – photo by Elise Bakketun
Back to the villain. Greer Grimsley’s Scarpia is absolutely menacing (I see that he’s been Wotan, another intimidating character, in Der Ring des Nibelungen). When Scarpia attempts to rape Tosca (his deal: let the imprisoned Cavaradossi live if she’ll have sex with him), I felt the discomfort in the entire opera house. Soon after the curtains went down in act two, where Scarpia’s body was spotlighted and stretched out on the floor, and Tosca had finished “Vissi d’art” (“I lived for art, I lived for love,”) the guy behind me said, “Cool.” Also cool was Cavaradossi’s spine-tingling aria, “E lucevan le stelle” (“And the star shone.”) “And the stars shone and the earth was perfumed;” he appreciates love and beauty right to his death. Tosca experiences a similar feeling while she wonders why Scarpia has chosen to destroy her world: “I lived for art, I lived for love/never did I harm a living creature!” Until she stabbed Scarpia to death. But then, he had that coming.
A note on misperception in local opera: you do not need to get elaborately dressed up. You can if you would like to, but it’s not mandatory! I think this scares away some people who would really enjoy it. You can be casual.