Monday, December 21, 2009

Lore of the Diva Tosca

Tosca has so much lore about it, from strange supertitles to the famous staging nightmares of the final scene, and it all began at Tosca’s opening night. The original conductor, the renowned but nervous Leopold Mugnone, was told before entering the pit that there might be a bomb threat, and if anything untoward happened he should immediately begin conducting the National Anthem!

There have been many tales of bumbled final scenes: misfirings of the firing squad (they supposedly once shot Tosca instead of Cavaradossi)—or the members of the firing squad, under-rehearsed, who were told that if they got confused to “just follow Tosca.” They apparently did, one by one, over the parapet, falling to their supposed death.

Tosca was an unfortunate victim of at least one early supertitle incident, the title character’s admonition to the painter Cavaradossi to paint the eyes of the Madonna black, "Ma falle gli occhi neri....!", in order to make the painting look less like Miss Attavanti and more like Tosca. In one early set of supertitles, though, the line, which literally means “but make her eyes black,” was translated as “give her two black eyes,” resulting in unwanted hilarity.

Though none quite as hilarious as what purportedly happened to a supposedly well-upholstered and unloved soprano who, upon her jump, realized that the stage crew had replaced the usual buffers of her fall with a trampoline, causing the fall to death scene to happen again and again with her rebounds.

Some of the actual lore is moving indeed: in San Francisco, Tosca was the opera which opened the War Memorial Opera House, conducted by the company's founder, conductor Gaetano Merola. More than 25 years after the devastating earthquake of 1906, San Francisco finally got its opera house. The audience, packed with Italians, reacted unexpectedly to the opera's opening word, "finalmente!"(finally!), sung by Angelotti, expressing his relief at having reached the church safely. The audience broke into applause that they "finally!" had their opera house.
Photo by Christian Steiner