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YES, LADIES and gentlemen, the curtain is going up for Act III of Opera Chaos. Even the most high-toned audience enjoys a snicker, not to say the occasional full belly laugh, when things go wrong in this grandest of arts.
One of the most entertainingly error-prone operas seems to be Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca, though it’s not clear why this should be so. As described so succinctly by Sir Denis Forman in A Night at the Opera (see www.wp.me/p2ETap-u7), this opera is a straightforward political thriller, “The one where the prima donna sticks a knife into the chief of police and her lover goes before a firing squad who shouldn’t shoot him but do.”
Barone Scarpia has the hots for Floria Tosca, and he claims to trade the safety of her boyfriend for her affections. Once Scarpia signs the (fake) letter of safe conduct, in the ensuing hanky-panky Tosca takes up a knife and stabs him.
Except for one production in which the prop person forgot to place the knife on Scarpia’s desk along with quill pen and paper, inkwell, a bowl of fruit and a vase of flowers.
At the crucial “Quest’ è il bacio di Tosca!” (“Here’s Tosca’s kiss!”), finding herself knifeless, this particular soprano grabbed a flower from the vase and stabbed Scarpia with its stem.
Well done, I say.
Then, in any Tosca, comes a somber end of the act. Tosca arranges Scarpia’s body, places candles at his head and a crucifix on his chest. She blows out the remaining candles on the desk’s candelabra, exits, and Scarpia is left in the gloom as the curtain falls.
In at least one production, however, she set Scarpia’s wig afire.
Another chaotic variation is described in Hugh Vicker’s Great Operatic Disasters (see www.wp.me/p2ETap-11h). In deference to local fire ordinances, the candles, including the four remaining ones in the candelabra, were fake—and their electric signals got crossed.
Tosca solemnly blew on the candle on the right, and the left one went out; she blew out a back one, and a front one extinguished.
There goes solemnity.
And then there’s the last act’s mock execution that turns out not to be mock. I’ve already shared some operatic chaos concerning its firing squad (www.wp.me/p2ETap-11h). Here are two other bits of concluding Tosca goofiness.
The action takes place at the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome. Betrayed by her boyfriend’s real execution, Tosca is expected to wail a bit, rush to the Castel parapet, wail a bit more and jump to her death.
Hugh Vicker’s sequel, Even Greater Operatic Disasters (www.wp.me/p2ETap-178), describes a Tosca in which its Castel cannonball array was assembled from rubber beachballs, painted black and hastily glued to form a tetrahedral pile.
Alas, in this cut-rate production, Tosca managed to nudge the pile of fake cannonballs, which disintegrated. As she sang her last words, the cannon/beachballs bounced variously down the steps, across the stage and over the orchestra pit into the audience.
But perhaps the ultimate Tosca conclusion involved a highly strung diva and an aggrieved stage staff. Usually, Tosca leaps from the rampart to a mattress placed just out of audience sightlines. And so it was during rehearsal.
Then, though, the stage hands replaced the mattress with a trampoline. Notes Vickers in Great Operatic Disasters, “It is said that she came up 15 times before the curtain fell—sometimes upside down, then right way up—now laughing in delirious glee, now screaming with rage.”
Take that, Scarpia! ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013