Boston Lyric Opera, Tosca, November 16th, Shubert Theater

It has been interesting to see Boston Lyric Opera’s production of Puccini’s Tosca just a few weeks after seeing Opera Boston’s production of Beethoven’s Fidelio, just down the street at the Cutler Majestic Theater. The two operas, in their very different ways, invoke a powerful atmosphere of political repression — the world in which everyone lives, the trap that everyone is caught in, the air that everyone breathes — and in both cases a woman at the center of things wreaks havoc with the status quo. Kierkegaard, writing about Mozart’s Don Giovanni, says that music is by nature seductive and thus that Mozart had found the perfect subject — seduction — for music drama to spin out and reflect upon.

Tosca on the Edge: The Glimmerglass Opera, 2010

The great scandal surrounding the Met’s 2010 production of Tosca seemed to be a hyperbolic reaction to the palpably conflicting musical and psychological currents of Puccini’s darkest opera. Joseph Kerman’s famous dismissal of it as a “shabby little shocker” is at least one-third correct: shocking it is. Yet, swathing those nasty bits with the sounds and imagery of the Catholic liturgy – Puccini’s innovative use of Latin plainchant, modal counterpoint, carillons and chimes, vaulted church interiors, ritratti della Madonna, and the spectacle of worship – is the primary way Puccini projects a creepy sense of moral and psychological irony and repression throughout.

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