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Tosca at the Movies pt. 1

January 11, 2009
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* Don’t forget to tune into the show this Tuesday 6-8pm come hell or high water… unless it snows, maybe. *


The last two movies I’ve seen in theaters were the new James Bond installment “Quantum of Solace” and Van Sant’s biopic “Milk.”  For sure, this is mostly just coincidence.  Still, the opera plays an important, albeit minor role in both movies.  Their use of Tosca was definitely not coincidental.  Perhaps there is some way to connect the dots not just between the two movies and what the opera may offer modern audiences a little over a hundred years after its premiere. 

Today I’ll go through the opera and two movies and sometime later in the week discuss what Tosca can mean for today.

Puccini’s Tosca consistently ranks as one of the most performed operas in the world.   While Wikipedia has a very good explanation, for the uninitiated and impatient here is a brief synopsis:

Tosca is a story about a political prisoner named Angelotti who escapes.  One of his friends, Cavaradossi, helps him to hide from the police.  Cavaradossi has a beautiful lover, the singer Tosca.  The chief of police, Scarpia is infatuated with Tosca as well.  In the course of searching for Angelotti, Scarpia discovers that Cavaradossi is hiding him and takes Cavaradossi prisoner.  Scarpia tortures Cavadarossi in front of Tosca to find out where Angelotti is.  Tosca cannot handle seeing this and tells Scarpia where to find Angelotti.  Cavaradossi is then jailed and Scarpia attempts to seduce Tosca.  Tosca bargains to exchange her body for Cavaradossi’s freedom, but then discovers a knife and kills Scarpia after he writes an order allowing Tosca and Cavaradossi free passage.  The two meet and Tosca tells Cavaradossi what she did.  They plan their future together until time for a fake execution Cavaradossi, which turns out to not be so fake.  Following Cavaradossi’s execution, Tosca commits suicide as various officials realize she had killed Scarpia.

Seeing two mentions of the opera in such a short period led me to Netflix this performance of Tosca.  I’m not a huge opera buff, nor feel the desire to critique it for the sake of critiquing, but I think for the sake of this post it was at least interesting that this is not a live staging of Tosca but a production for film.  I enjoyed it – i thought both the acting and the singing was well done.  How much more can you ask for?

The Stage for Tosca in Quantum of Solace.  A Production

The Stage for Tosca in Quantum of Solace. A Production at the Seebuhne in Bregenz, Austria.

In Quantum of Solace, a modern performance of Tosca is a critical scene in the movie, where Bond is able to uncover the identities and part of the plot of some of the world’s most sophisticated villains.   During the performance Dominick Greene – an insanely wealthy man using his money to publicly advocate for the environment and privately to obtain control of an unnamed resource – is coordinating business with others via wireless microphones/ear pieces.  Bond is able to obtain one of these ear pieces and listens in on the conversation before tricking the men into identifying themselves by leaving the performance mid-act.  Violence of course erupts during the performance, but is masked by the sound on stage and in the orchestra (the Te Deum Scene in Act 1). 

The scenes actually used a staging of Tosca in Austra  at the Seebuhne in Bregenz, Austria.  The writers for the film attended one of the performances of Tosca during the Summer festival in Bregenz and felt it was absolutely necessary to include this setting in the film.   The writers didn’t just like the scenery, but also acknowledged that the story of Tosca had a parallel to QoS, which I’ll discuss more in another post.  More information on the relationship between the writers and festival can be found in this Bond Production Diary and a brief mention here

Milk uses music from Tosca intermittently throughout the film.  As a review describes “Throughout the film, the music plays only in the background, almost as if it were a projection of Milk’s imagination, as opposed to something playing on a record player.”   Near the end, Milk attends a performance of the opera , and we look over his shoulder watching the final scene – Tosca’s death.  The fact that this is chosen is no accident, since sequentially it happens shortly before Milk’s assassination.  The foreshadowing of Milk’s death is continued when he later raves to one of his ex lovers about how divine the performance of Tosca was and how he had seen her before when he lived in NY and before he became an activist.  His ex lover mentions that Milk will probably live to be 50 after all, even though Milk denied that early in the film.    Here again, the significance of Tosca is not just mood or historical accuracy, but Tosca’s storyline connects to Milk as well.

So, like I said, I’ll tackle a little more than basic description a little later in the week.  Catch you on the flip side…


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