Seeing 'Tosca' in San Francisco


A few months ago I decided that Lauren and I ought take advantage of some of the civic institutions available here in Our Fair City by the Bay. Thus I booked us to enjoy our first opera together, “Don Giovanni.” We rather enjoyed the performance and that was that. We were given an introductory offer to come and see additional operas and wound up seeing both Verdi’s “Attilla” and Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” before the close of the season.

This season we were not planning on catching any shows but this poster, hanging from many a lamp-post in the city convinced me that we had to catch Angela Gheorghiu (warning: site plays music on load) in the title role:

Tosca Promo

The performance was Wednesday night, the 28th and Ms. Gheorghiu was in fine form. Her soprano is soaring, powerful and present. Undoubtedly a diva herself, Ms. Gheorghiu’s disappearing into the role of a fiery, entitled, semi-delusional diva was total. While Puccini was certainly a stranger to the idea of postmodernism, the idea of a stage actress inhabiting the world as a stage, on stage is fascinating and I felt this performance really brought out this: “Floria Tosca genuinely believes she is living a grand play.” As the story unspools her play moves from romance, to drama, to tragedy.

Here she is singing “Vissi d’arte” from “Tosca.”

Opera is an interseting art that I really knew nothing about several months ago. It is psychologically flat (it antedates psychology, so, no surprise), melodramatic and overwrought. But over time I’ve come to love these “antique” touches and come to conclude that it is these elder touches that allow the vocal performances to rise, to gain the emotional charge needed to hit them home.

So while Gheorghiu uses the melodrama to drive her beautiful singing, one cannot discount her excellence as an actress. Her Tosca in the first act is coquetteish and attention-whorish in a way not unfamiliar to anyone who has seen MTV or a reality show in the last 2 years. Her Tosca in the second act is the divine haughtiness of a diva of the stage, she uses her presence to batter her antagonist but never fails to show the audience the fear and vulnerability that’s beneath that mask. In the final act the tears and the hope race against the impossible and she spins wildly between raising our hopes and dashing them. It was truly a sublime performance.

I cannot encourage people enough to be engaged with their civic, social, artistic or knowledge-diffusing institutions. In face, on my recent appearance on the Ruby Rogues, that was a recommendation of mine:

[We…] have a more obligation to donate and/or be involved [in] civic or intellectual institutions. So go see an opera, go to a museum… You don’t have to be at that Bruce Wayne level of being socially involved to have an impact, but if you think about in the golden age of America — say the early 20th century – we built these wonderful social institutions which were meant to spread the profusion of learning and rational thought, knowledge and appreciation of the sublime. And […] we are not doing that as much as we used to anymore…you should be engaged with your arts – because people who believe in irrational behavior are funding irrational institutions, … al-Qaeda being […] one. So I highly recommend that you be engaged with rational, tolerant, accepting and enlightened social institutions.