Opera Bites: 'Tosca' takes audience on tour of Roman locations

Friday, October 9, 2009
Marcelo Alvarez, center, performing as Cavaradossi alongside Karita Mattila, right, performing the title role and George Gagnidze, left, performing as Scarpia on Sept. 17 during the final dress rehearsal of Giacomo Puccini's "Tosca" at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. "Tosca" will be shown at noon Saturday at the Town Plaza Cinema as part of the "Met Live in HD" series. (Mary Altaffer ~ Associated Press)

The first high-definition broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera this season will be Saturday with Puccini's "Tosca." The performance begins at noon at the Town Plaza Cinema in Cape Girardeau.

"Tosca" is one of the most popular operas in the repertory. It tells the story of the opera singer Floria Tosca, and her lover, the painter Mario Cavaradossi.

They get caught up in the maelstrom of Roman politics and the evil machinations of the chief of the secret police, Baron Scarpia. Scarpia is in love with Tosca and when he attempts to rape her, she stabs him to death.

She and Cavaradossi, who is in prison, think that they will be able to escape Rome after he is "killed" in a mock execution. However, the execution is real, Cavaradossi dies and Tosca throws herself off of the parapet of Castel Sant'Angelo.

The music in Tosca is some of Puccini's best. The action is swift and to the point, but what makes the opera so fascinating to me is where it takes place: Rome.

Act I takes place in the church of Sant'Andrea della Valle. This beautiful church is on one of Rome's main streets. It is full of wonderful paintings and mysterious side chapels. The Atavanti Chapel is where Act I is set. It is the first on the left as you enter the church. The dome of this church is the largest in Rome after St. Peter's.

Act II is in the Palazzo Farnese, which faces the Piazza Farnese; today it is the French Embassy. Part of the facade was designed by Michelangelo. The Palazzo was completed in 1589. I stayed in a hotel near this building, and there was always something going on in the busy piazza.

The final act is set on the parapets of Castel Sant'Angelo. This building was originally the mausoleum of the Emperor Hadrian. He began building it in A.D. 130. In 590 Pope Gregory the Great saw a vision of the Archangel Michael on top of the tomb. The plague that had been ravaging Rome ended and a chapel was built on top of the tomb.

This new production of "Tosca" features Finnish soprano Karita Mattila and tenor Marcello Alvarez.

Barb Herbert of Cape Girardeau is an opera lover and host of Southeast Public Radio's "Sunday Night at the Opera."

Editor's note: News outlets have reported Swiss director Luc Bondy took a different approach to the scenes in "Tosca." The locations may not reflect their actual appearance or look as described above.

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