21 December 2002 | se7en45
Hot & Spicy, Erotic & Creamy
My initial reaction to this movie was negative. It took me a while to get used to the technique of showing the singers, musicians and the conductor and then rapidly splicing footage of the singers performing in costume on the set of the opera. However, I think this experiment gradually begins to weave a spell over the audience (consider what Lawrence Olivier did with his film of "HENRY V"). The artificial world of theatre and opera explodes into a reality filled with excitement and vitality.
The orchestra bursts into a throbbing overture that hints at the turmoil that bubbles at the tragic heart of Puccini's opera. Antonio Pappano conducts like a man possessed, he fights and wrestles the score to fiery heights and the music rises with a sweaty passion.
Roberto Alagna sings and acts the role of Cavaradossi with enough conviction, although Placido Domingo did an electrifying job for Giofranco De Bosio in the 1976 movie. Alagna may not have the acting ability of Domingo but he certainly more than makes up for it in the singing department. His natural charisma also shines through in the close-ups that are used frequently to heighten psychological tension.
Ruggero Raimondi plays the part of Scarpia with venom and overtones of violent malice. At times he almost resembles a rapist stalking his next victim. There are shades of his magnificent portrayal of the decadent Don Giovanni (remember the Joseph Losey film?), for example, when he's at the dinner table we see Scarpia admiring his own smirking reflection in the glinting knife. His aria, in this scene, is about how he devours women until his appetite is sated. He proudly boasts about his varied taste in differnt kinds of females and the whole aria is very sinister and disturbing. His acting is splendid and his singing voice is still virile and strong.
Tosca, sung and acted by the earthy Angela Gheorghiu, is first seen as almost bloodless. She is wearing a pale yellow dress and there's no trace of make-up on her anxious face. We can see insecurity and jealousy lined in her face and eyes. She peeks around like a hunted animal which has lost the will to live. This is the way Puccini wrote the part for his heroine and this superb singer delivers a haunting performance. In the latter sections of the opera we see her in a blood-red dress that swirls behind her like a crimson river. Now her eyes are raging black coals that glint with fire and her ruby lips shine with lust. Her cheeks are creamy and flushed and her heaving breast indicates the trembling fear that courses through her lascivious body. Her scene with Scarpia is erotic, the fire leaps and strange shadows dance around the claustrophobic room. This whole scene is extremely erotic, there is a definite sexual spark between the snake-like Scarpia and the radiant sexiness of Tosca. Her voice is tinged with a smouldering huskiness.
The climax, on the top of the gothic castle is beautifully lit, Tosca's red dress still glows and her face has a hue of cold blue (the lighting in this section would please fans who enjoy the works of Mario Bava or Dario Argento). This time we see the tragic frailty in Tosca's eyes, there are hints of suspicion and fear and the close-ups, once again, are very effective in conveying her emotional state.
This film is a very good example of opera being translated over into Art House Cinemas and the experiment of inter-cutting footage of singers in the theatre and the film sets is by-and-large successful and will bear repeated viewings. One hopes more adaptations will follow and thus allow opera the freedom to reach new venues.
Seek out this pulsating film and allow your emotions to run riot with passion and excitement.