Opera Review with Stixen Stones!

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Stixen’s Spoiler-Rich Summary

(It’s Puccini. The spoilers are from the last century. Calm down.)

Do you enjoy operas? What about operas that involve falling off of towers, jealous girlfriends and a genuinely thrilling plot? Then Tosca is most definitely the opera for you. It’s got something for everyone, except for the youngsters in your life- who should probably avoid this one. But Tosca is a must-see, full of chills and thrills at every turn.

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Me: So, what were your thoughts going in vs. coming out?

Stixen: I came in feeling pretty skeptical. My past experiences with opera have been pretty spotty, surprisingly enough. Who would’ve thought? Opera seems like a drag queen’s dream, but, for some reason, I’ve always struggled to connect with it. But, after Tosca, I left feeling pretty gobsmacked in the best sense. It was stunning, in every sense of the word.

Me:It was one of the best productions I’ve ever seen. Definitely my favorite production of Tosca. I know everyone talks about how important lighting is, but the lighting turned some lovely sets into flat-out breath-taking scenes.

Stixen: Absolutely! My career is in the theatre and let me tell you, I’ve NEVER paid attention to lighting. It usually just isn’t noticeable. But this production used the lighting to its fullest potential. The lighting literally gave me chills. It couldn’t have been more gorgeous. It made every scene look like a painting and it also created a fascinating metaphor to the tale itself.

Me: Everything was so detailed, but still felt more like art than reality. I loved how the light augmented the space, creating moonlight, shadows from candlelight, and even a glow from the outer hallway. It was magical.

Stixen: The light added so much depth to the space. And the sparse use of harsh lighting really created so much drama. The outer hallway lights that they used in acts II and III really created such a statement. The strict, harsh lighting created so much tension.

Me: Agreed, especially contrasted with the float and flow of Tosca’s gowns. Usually, Tosca is just the gaudiest piece on a gilt set, but her costumes always stood out, emphasizing that this was ultimately her story, and that she was fairly isolated.

Stixen: Oh absolutely! I had a few qualms with the costumes but Tosca was designed beautifully. The flow of her gowns was absolutely ethereal. The designer did a brilliant job of telling Tosca’s story. Her journey as a character could not have been more visually exciting to me.

Me: What were your favorite parts of the story?

Stixen: It’s a tough call. I think Tosca’s journey was certainly a standout for me. I didn’t like her at first. She’s a jealous diva in act I. But by act III, she’s practically a renegade. But if I had to choose a moment that I really liked, I would have to say the finale of act I. We’re in this gorgeous, well-lit church. The choir is singing about the grace of God and the pope is going through rituals for his congregation. Meanwhile, our villain is spouting sinful sonnets about his desire for Tosca. It was absolutely amazing.

Me: That part has always given me chills. The music is incredible, and the lyrics are disturbing.

Stixen: Absolutely! Especially with the cathedral setting. Most productions might cut corners in an attempt to cut the cost but this production’s set was nothing short of jaw dropping at every turn. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Me: You seemed to have some thoughts about the feminist/not-feminist sides of the story.

Stixen: I did! I wanted to hear your thoughts. Tosca began as a non feminist character in my eyes but by the end, I felt that she had gone on a journey and come out the other side. What were your thoughts?

Me: It’s a tricky subject, because the story was written in and about a very unequal time. On the one hand, the story literally revolves about who gets to hike Tosca’s skirt. On the other, she goes from an object of desire to a plot-changing force. Sensationalized stories like this are so focused on sex and scandal that it’s hard to pick at. However, I think one of the biggest marks of feminism in the story is the fact that the men are heroes or villains based on consent. Scarpia isn’t the villain because he wants to sleep with Tosca. He’s the villain because he wants to force her. Force is also portrayed as manipulation. That’s important. It’s equally important that neither Tosca nor her lover are portrayed as evil or corrupt even though it’s clear they’re sleeping together. Sex isn’t demonized, but lack of consent is.

Stixen: That’s a very good point. But, I think you’ve described it beautifully. The author was very much ahead of his time in the sense that he has taken sexual themes and made them very modern. He handled rape quite well, if you ask me. Many old operas might dance around this issue or be afraid to call it what it is. But this opera doesn’t allow the audience to have any doubts about his intentions. On the other hand, I appreciated the fact that Tosca and her lover were clearly in love, not entirely in lust. The story does not demonize them for sex before marriage, even though it was certainly taboo at the time. It’s interesting to wonder how audiences at the time would have received these messages.

Me: People thought it was the most scandalous thing they’d ever seen. Apart from maybe Carmen.

Unfortunately, Tosca fails the Bechtel Test in spectacular fashion. So from that angle, it’s not particularly feminist. It’s still a case of a single female character effectively standing for all women. It’s impossible to have a single female character without accidentally making her the embodiment of some kind of feminine ideal.

Stixen: That’s a good point. I was certainly a bit wary when Tosca arrived in act I. Her main attributes seemed to be vanity and envy. I worried that maybe her role was too flawed. But by act II, she had become a whole other beast. Protective, aggressive and sacrificial. If nothing else, her journey has some lovely feminist themes.

Official Heel Rating:

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I’ll give it 4 out of 5 heels.

 


M. Leigh Hood is a rare beast of the Cincinnati wilderness typically preoccupied with writing, nerding, and filming The Spittoon List. For more articles and stories by M. Leigh Hood, look HERE.

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