Puccini's Tosca Tells Tale of Tragic Lovers

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Puccini's Tosca Tells Tale of Tragic Lovers

Murder, politics and sexual extortion, subjects the Bard of Avon often featured in his plays, are also the main themes in "Tosca," an opera by the eccentric Italian composer Giacomo Puccini. Set in the Napoleonic Era of the early 19th century, Puccini's "Tosca" revolves around a jealous opera star, Floria Tosca, and her artist lover, Mario Cavarodossi, who works as the sexton of a church.

Conducted by Elisabetta Maschio and produced by Lee So-young, the opera opened last month at the Seoul Arts Center. It is interesting to note that the producer and conductor are both women. "Tosca" dissects human emotions in much the same way Puccini did in his previous works, "Madame Butterfly" and "Manon Lescaut."

In "Tosca," Puccini returns to one of his beloved subjects - the emotional lives of women. Full of passion and engaging dialogue, the women in Puccini's operas often suffer emotionally, whether it be in the form of jealousy, vanity or deception. Pucini shows how these emotions sometimes result in tragedy.

As Act I begins, an escaped political prisoner, Angelotti, takes refuge in a family chapel. When Cavaradossi, the sexton who also fancies himself a painter, arrives to work on his mural, Angelotti recognizes him as a fellow revolutionary sympathizer and asks for his help. Cavaradossi agrees but conceals his involvement from his lover, Tosca. Meanwhile, the sinister Scarpia, Chief of Roman Police, suspects the conspiracy and raids Cavaradossi's villa.

Set in Scarpia's apartments, Act II begins with Scarpia threatening Tosca. The police chief is infatuated with Tosca, and tries to use the imprisonment of her lover as a bargaining chip to satisfy his own unrequited lust. Tosca agrees, but instead stabs Scarpia to death.

In Act III, Cavaradossi prepares for his execution at the Castel Sant'Angelo. Tosca arrives and tells him they will soon be free, but the firing squad takes aim, and Cavaradossi dies. Overwhelmed by grief, Tosca commits suicide.

The only difference between the original play and the Seoul production by Ms. Lee is the appearance of a shepherd who enters in the beginning of Act III. The young boy wipes blood stains left at the scene of the execution while humming in an angelic voice. The image of a child singing amidst death is startlingly poetic. The young shepherd's gesture of wiping blood conjures up questions of both lust and innocence. However the work's political aspects are minimized in the Seoul performance.

Puccini was the most important Italian opera composer in the generation after Verdi. Born and educated in Lucca, Puccini later attended the Milan Conservatory. Puccini began his professional career as an opera composer with "Le Villi", which was produced in Milan in 1884. It was "Tosca" though, a violent bloody drama based on Victorien Sardou's play "La Tosca", that earned Puccini international fame and has been performed by some of the world's most renowned operatic divas.

Elisabeta Battaglia, an Italian opera singer, portrays Tosca. The last performance of "Tosca" will be on Friday. For more information contact Seoul Arts Center at 580-1300.

By Park Soo-mee
Staff Writer

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