Parlando: The COC Blog

5/6/2017

The Opera That Changed My Life: Tosca in the Flesh!

 

Internationally renowned Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka joins us as the title character in Puccini's Tosca this spring. The Opera That Changed My Life is our blog series that explores the moments when people became opera lovers.


Adrianne Pieczonka 

The opera that changed my life was Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at the ENO in 1988. I had just moved to London after finishing my studies in Toronto and was hoping to launch my operatic career. I got a last minute ticket to this opera by Shostakovich and I had a seat in the second row of the theatre. Katerina Ismailova was played by the brilliant English soprano Josephine Barstow and Willard White played her husband. The production by David Pountney was simply electrifying and the music literally blew me away. I left the theatre in a daze. I felt so overwhelmed by the incredible singing/acting I had witnessed. I'll never forget this performance.

 

Above: Dame Josephine Barstow singing "Vissi d'arte" from Tosca in a 1990 recording.


Puccini's Tosca is onstage at the Four Seasons Centre until May 20, 2017. For more information, click here.

Banner image: Marcelo Puente and Adrianne Pieczonka in Tosca (COC, 2017), Michael Cooper

Posted by Tanner Davies / in Tosca / comments (0) / permalink

5/3/2017

The Opera That Changed My Life: Tosca

 

As we are currently presenting Puccini's Tosca, we wanted to share this Tosca-themed entry to our blog series. The Opera That Changed My Life explores the moments when people became opera lovers.


Tom Shaw-Stiffel

While growing up, I was immersed in classical music but I hated opera! After a "graduation" trip to Rome in 1982 at the age of 24, I turned on the TV one Sunday afternoon and Tosca with [Plácido] Domingo and [Mirella] Freni was just starting. The fact that it was filmed on location in Rome caught my eye, so I got out my mom's old 1950s Guide to the Opera and followed along. Needless to say, that afternoon changed my life forever!!!

 

Above: Mirella Freni singing "Vissi d'arte" from Tosca in a 1985 concert in Lugano, Switzerland.

 

Above: Plácido Domingo and Raina Kabaivanska singing "Non la sospiri, la nostra casetta" and "Qual'occhio" from Tosca.


Puccini's Tosca is onstage at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts until May 20. For more information and tickets, please click here.

Banner image: Adrianne Pieczonka (foreground) with (l-r, background) Mark Delavan and David Cangelosi in ​Tosca ​(COC, 2012), photo by Michael Cooper

Posted by Tanner Davies / in Tosca / comments (0) / permalink

4/28/2017

9 Things About Tosca

By Nikita Gourski, Strategic Advisor and Artistic Associate 

Romance, war, murder. Tosca is an operatic thriller set to one of opera's most lush and memorable scores. Do you need to brush up on your Tosca knowledge or simply want to learn more about our production? Here are 9 Things About Tosca!


1. Puccini, the master of emotions

Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924) was a master at composing for the stage, blending accessible yet highly evocative music with fast-moving narrative to create operas of immense popular appeal. Some critics have taken issue with Puccini’s melodramatic tendencies—American musicologist Joseph Kerman, for example, famously dismissed Tosca as a “shabby little shocker.” Yet despite such perennial complaints, Puccini’s work continues to resonate with audiences in a genuine, moving way, and operas such as La Bohème, Madama Butterfly, and Tosca remain some of the most popular in the canon for a reason.

2. It’s a historical thriller

Tosca is set in Rome in 1800 during the Napoleonic Wars. The action has a sense of realism and urgency, with references to actual military battles (Battle of Marengo), city landmarks (Castel Sant’Angelo), and a story that unfolds almost in real-time. Indeed, Tosca’s suspenseful plotting and quick pace has been compared to a Hitchcock film. Additionally Puccini wanted to incorporate real-life sounds into his score—church bells, canon fire, rifle shots, etc.—to expand the musical fabric of the orchestra into the life of the street. (At the time, this was viewed as a radical innovating by some critics, and earned disapproval for being mere noise as opposed to music.)

3. Original performance

Tosca premiered in 1900 in Rome, the same city as its setting. And though the Napoleonic Wars were long over, Italy was going through a period of political turbulence and social unrest, which amplified the opera’s sensational subject matter. The atmosphere of political instability almost compromised the premiere, as the theatre dealt with a bomb threat, while the cast and producers received menacing letters from those who objected to an out-of-towner composing about Rome. Despite these obstacles, the opera had its premiere to great audience acclaim, though music critics were more divided.

4. When politics become personal

The plot centres on Floria Tosca, a famous opera singer who is ensnared in political intrigue when her lover, the painter Cavaradossi, is imprisoned by a repressive regime. The sadistic chief of police Scarpia (likely the most hate-able villain in all of opera) then propositions Tosca by allowing Cavaradossi to live if she agrees to meet his sexual demands.



5. Puccini hit list

With Tosca, Puccini created some of his most memorable music, including arias like Cavaradossi’s “Recondita armonia,” sung as the painter is working on his portrait of Mary Magdalene and Tosca’s famous “Vissi d’arte,” in which the heroine reflects on her devotion to art as she faces the ethical challenge posed by Scarpia’s lascivious offer. The opera is also notable for being through-composed—with the music unfolding in one more or less uninterrupted wave of sustained flow. This continuously advancing quality of the music is a natural fit for the action-driven plot of the opera.

6. Leitmotifs: musical signposts

Puccini uses leitmotifs extensively in Tosca; these are recurring musical phrases that signify the appearance of certain characters or even reference individuals who might be absent but discussed by others (the Star Wars franchise is a good example of this practice—think of the music that accompanies Darth Vader’s entrances). One of the defining motifs in Tosca is the sinister, jagged music line associated with Scarpia, a theme that serves as the opening of the opera and recurs frequently to underscore the ubiquitous reach of a nefarious state power. Contrast this with the bright woodwinds and high, expressive strings that accompany Tosca, first as she appears in the church in Act I and then throughout the opera. This musical contrast builds dramatic tension and reinforces the clash of wills at the heart of the story.

7. Onstage style

Our lavish production was created by the award-winning Scottish director Paul Curran, with sumptuous costumes and stunning sets of chapels, palaces, and fortresses of 19th-century Rome by designer Kevin Knight, and atmospheric lighting design by David Martin Jacques. When this production premiered in 2008, Curran noted, “There are similar stories to Tosca in theatre and on film but nothing quite has the same effect as the melodic and dramatic invention of Puccini in the opera house. It never fails to amaze me.”

8. Two of opera’s great divas

Sharing the title role are Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka and American soprano Keri Alkema. Pieczonka is returning to the role of Tosca at the COC after delivering a “luminous performance” (The Globe and Mail) with the company in 2012. For Alkema, this is her first Tosca with the COC, but comes on the heels of her appearance in the role with the English National Opera last fall, in which her performance was lavishly praised: “compelling… Passionate, teasing, vulnerable, full of love, stirred to vengeful rage and desperate measures, Alkema gets to the heart of Tosca” (The Times).

9. A Canadian debut at the podium

Conducting the COC Orchestra and Chorus is Canadian Keri-Lynn Wilson. A regular guest conductor at leading international opera companies and orchestras, Wilson makes her COC debut with Tosca. When she appeared with English National Opera in 2014, conducting another Puccini work, she was hailed as “unquestionably one of the stars of the evening” (The Guardian). 


Our production of Tosca is onstage at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts from April 30 to May 20. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.

Photo credits (top - bottom): Adrianne Pieczonka in Tosca (COC, 2012), photo by Michael Cooper; Mark Delavan and Adrianne Pieczonka in Tosca (COC, 2012), photo by Michael Cooper; Carlo Ventre and Adrianne Pieczonka in Tosca (COC, 2012), photo by Gary Beechey

Posted by Tanner Davies / in Tosca / comments (5) / permalink

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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001

 

 

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