Thursday, November 15 , 2018, 1:26 am | Fair 45º


Gerald Carpenter: Romantic Politics Come Passionately Alive in Opera Santa Barbara’s ‘Tosca’

Next from Opera Santa Barbara is Giacomo Puccini's dark and gorgeous Tosca (1900), with a libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, based on the play La Tosca (1887) by Victorien Sardou.

Marcy Stonikas
Soprano Marcy Stonikas sings the role of Giacomo Puccini's most passionate heroine in Opera Santa Barbara's production of Tosca.

The OSB show stars Marcy Stonikas (Floria Tosca), Christopher Bengochea (Mario Cavaradossi) and Luis Ledesma (Baron Scarpia), with support from Hunter Enoch, Gabriel Vamvulescu, Robert Watson and Keith Colclough.

In most of the ways that count, Tosca is a perfect opera: emotional storms, violent action and beautiful, thrilling melodies. Of course, as a political testament — let alone a political melodrama — it is entirely A=A. The political dynamics are the simplistic abstractions of romantic nationalism: freedom (or liberty, though they are not synonyms) is good; tyrants, and their servants, are evil. Cavaradossi is a freedom fighter, Scarpia serves the reactionaries, Floria Tosca is the prize.

Only the personal interactions matter. Scarpia is less concerned with Mario as a revolutionary than as the true love of Tosca.

In her book Mrs. Harris — about the trial and conviction of Jean Harris, who murdered her lover, Dr. Herman Tarnower, author of The Scarsdale Diet — Diana Trilling remarked upon "sexual jealousy, that most destructive of all passions." Yet, where would opera — or, for that matter, dramatic literature — be without it? For all the sincerity of Tosca's love for Mario, and of Mario's for her, it is the furious, possessive jealousy of Scarpia that drives the plot of Tosca.

Given these three people, the story would have worked out pretty much the same way, even if there had been no French Revolution, nor Napoleon.

La Rochefoucauld, famous for his wry objectivity, wrote: "Great and striking actions which dazzle the eyes are represented by politicians as the effect of great designs, instead of which they are commonly caused by the temper and the passions. Thus the war between Augustus and Anthony, which is set down to the ambition they entertained of making themselves masters of the world, was probably but an effect of jealousy."

The imprisonment, torture and probable death of Mario Cavaradossi was bound to have almost no effect on the fortunes of the cause he so passionately espoused, whatever it was. He lives for us today, not as a martyred Italian patriot, but as half of a pair of historically star-crossed lovers.

As operas go, Tosca is brief, and incredibly intense. No one could render an overwhelming passion into lyrical rapture as convincingly as Puccini. And he never did it so succinctly, so searingly, as in this opera. By far his darkest work, it contains some of his most beautiful and unforgettable tunes.

Tosca plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, both performances in the Granada Theatre. Ticket prices range from $28 to $188, and they are available at the Granada Theatre box office at 1214 State St., by phone at 805.899.2222 or online by clicking here.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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