In Defense Of Tosca - The Opera That Some People Love To Hate
A C Douglas is at it again at his always interesting website Soundsandfury.com . As a passionate admirer of the operas of Wagner and Mozart , he has a low opinion of most Italian operas , but the controversy over the Met's new Tosca has made him curious to see the production in spite of this . He dismisses the opera as a"maudlin, tawdry little melodrama ".
And he's not alone in this . There's a classic book on opera criticism by the distinguished musicologist Joseph Kerman , who taught for many years at UC Berkely, called "Opera As Drama ", first published over 50 years ago and still available from amazon.com etc . It's a very interesting discussion of the relationship between music and drama in opera . But Kerman too has a low opinion of Tosca, and Puccini's operas in general . He coined the catchy phrase " A Shabby Little Shocker " to describe Tosca , and this catchy but extremely inapt phrase has unfortunately stuck with this deservedly popular opera , which has been a staple of the operatic repertoire for over a century . And an opera which has been sung and recorded by such great opera singers as Maria Callas , Leontyne Price , Placido Domingo , Franco Corelli , Tito Gobbi , Sherill Milnes , Luciano Pavarotti and other operatic greats .
Not to mention such great conductors as Victor De Sabata , Herbert Von Karajan , Zubin Mehta, James Levine , Sir Georg Solti , Lorin Maazel , Giuseppe Sinopoli , Riccardo Muti and Sir Colin Davis , all of whom have made recordings of it . Kerman calls the opera cheap, vulgar , manipulative of audiences , and compares it unfavorably with other more intellectually respectable operas such as Verdi's Otello etc.
But Tosca is neither shabby , little nor a shocker . It's the compelling story of the conflict between a tempestuous opera diva and her lover , a painter who supports Napoleon in Rome during the Napoleonic wars against the established monarchy , and the ruthless and lustful chief of police in Rome , who is not only out to destroy the dissidents but to conquer the diva for himself . And the music has enormous sweep and power , as well as moments of ravishing lyricism .
It's the work of a consummate master of both music and drama , and deserves to be taken seriously as a work of art . If it were merely a "shabby little shocker , singers and conductors of the stature of those just mentioned would not have lavished so much time and effort performing and recording it, and it would not have held the stage for so long .