Opéra de Montréal’s Tosca Emphasizes Realism and the Score

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The Opéra of Montréal will open its 2017-18 season with an all-time classic: Tosca by Giacomo Puccini, a drama in three acts revolving around a love triangle. A painter (Mario Cavaradossi) and a singing diva (Tosca) are in love, but Scarpia, the chief of Roma’s Police is looking for a political dissident who is hiding at Cavaradossi’s work place. Scarpia is so enraptured by Tosca’s beauty that he will do anything in his power to have sex with her…

At a sneak peek of the production at the rehearsal studios of Opéra de Montréal we sat down with conductor Giuseppe Grazioli, director Jose Maria Condemi, tenor Giancarlo Monsalve, (Cavaradossi) soprano Melody Moore-Wagner (Tosca) and baritone Gregory Dahl (Scarpia).

Note: listen to excerpts below.

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Giuseppe Grazioli (conductor):

“Le problème dans Tosca, la première chose, au premier contact avec les chanteurs, il faut enlever les couches de tradition qu’il y a, parce que ç’a été tellement chanté que chaque chanteur a amené quelque chose de très personel et ç’a ne veut pas dire que ce qu’a ammené Callas par exemple va marcher pour toutes les sopranos qui chantent Tosca’. (The problem in Tosca is first of all, from the first rehearsal with the singers you have to start peeling out layers and layers of tradition. It’s an opera that has been sung so much and every singer of the past has added their own personal touch. However, it doesn’t mean that what Callas added, for example, is going to work for all the sopranos that sing Tosca.)”

For this production of Tosca we have a very strict come scritto (as written in the score) version. Maestro Grazioli remarks that Puccini rarely writes a fermata and instead he writes a lot of allargandos and ritenutos which are misinterpreted many times for a fermata, particularly on high notes. “Par example quand le tenor chante la phrase: la vita mi costase, il n’y a pas de point d’orgue. Néanmoins avez-vous entendu beaucoup de chanteurs qui font pas de point d’orgue? Non!, Ça dure un quart d’heure!” He says ironically, referring to great tenors of the past who enjoyed holding the high B for as long as possible. “À ce moment là, le ténor est dans l’urgence d’aider Agelotti. Est ce que vous l’imaginez s’arrêter 15 secondes pour chanter une note aigüe! Ç’a ferait pas de sens!”

(“For example when the tenor sings the phrase: La vita mi costase, there is no fermata. However, have you heard a lot of singers who don’t do a fermata? No, usually it lasts a quarter of an hour!” He says ironically, referring to great tenors who enjoy holding the high B for as long as possible. “At that point in the opera the tenor is trying to help Angelotti, it’s a moment of emergency. Can you imagine him stopping 15 seconds to sing a high note? That wouldn’t make any sense!”

Giancarlo Monsalve (tenor, plays Cavaradossi):

This is Monsalve’s debut with Opéra de Montréal. However, Cavaradossi was one of his first roles and he has performed it in prestigious opera houses such as Covent Garden. The tenor seemed really excited to be rediscovering this opera and learning from conductor Grazioli. “We stick more to the real value of the musical score, we are doing practically exactly what Puccini wanted, what is written in the score. We cleaned a little bit some traditions that were not necessary like maestro Grazioli wanted, and I have to say it works, it’s a rediscovering of the score!”

The Chilean tenor also notices that when studying a character he likes to get to the source of the story as much as possible. For example, in Tosca, he got inspired by reading the original story written by Victorien Sardud La Tosca, which was later rewritten and adapted by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa for Puccini’s Tosca.  Another example is when he was preparing for Otello, by Verdi. He says, “everybody goes to consult the Shakespeare Othello in which the opera was inspired, but it goes further than that if you check. In Un capitano Moro (The Moor Captain) which was written before the Shakespeare Othello, the guy (the Captain) is basically Othello. It’s the same story, so Shakespeare took it from there… I like to dig, it is very important to really understand the story.

Andrew Niebaber (assistant stage manager):

“This production is what we call a remount in the business, so it premiered in Cincinnati last summer. It was originally directed by Jose Maria Condemi and I was assistant in that production. It’s a fairly traditional show. Visually, we are not setting it on the moon or doing anything crazy with it. I don’t think this is a show that is open to a lot of crazy interpretation. For me, what was really important is that it’s all about the three Characters (Cavaradossi, Tosca and Scarpia) getting into their minds. Almost more than in any other opera this one has to be acted. It can’t just be sung beautifully by three people sitting in chairs for three hours.”

Melody Moore-Wagner (soprano, plays Tosca):

For the American soprano, the important thing is to always keep the character relevant and realistic. “I love our director because Jose Maria Condemi is a thinking director, he actually thinks how much time has passed between this event and that event and what would have happened in that time. Often you would see Tosca come up to Act three with her full regalia dress, a crown and some big cloak made of velvet.  And it’s not realistic because she just got off a safe passage to get out of the city and she’s been told at what time this fake execution is going to happen. So she would have had time to go and make herself a bit more discreet to be running to the streets and save Cavaradossi. You don’t do that in a full gown and a crown! You just don’t! Andrew is a real persons’ director. He wants the action to be realistic, so there is not a lot of parking and barking.” [Referring to the tendency of some singers and productions to stand up and sing without much acting].

Listen: Vissi d’arte (excerpt), Melody Moore-Wagner

Gregory Dahl (baritone, plays Scarpia):

Although this experienced baritone has most of the typical roles of the lyric and dramatic baritone repertoire under his belt, this is the first time he does a staged version of the opera. He offered the following view that helped him better understand his character. “This guy, the Scarpia’s, the Iago’s, they are everywhere in society, and they permeate all levels at all governments, schools. They are just men who enjoy power. I love playing the bad guy because I’m not a bad guy, well, maybe there’s is a bit of the bad guy in me.” He says rascally. “But that’s the fun part, you get to explore an another side of things.”

  • Puccini: Tosca, September 16, 19, 21 and 23 at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Place des arts. www.operademontreal.com
  • La Scena Musicale subscribers get a 15% discount by ordering from LSM. See www.lascena.ca



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