review by Gregory Avery, 20 September 2002

One good test as to whether a performance of an opera is working or not is whether, during the emotional high points, the music and drama succeed in inducing goosebumps, and that happened at least twice during Benoît Jacquot's film of the Puccini opera Tosca (which won the Prix Louis Delluc, one of France's highest film awards, last December).

Jacquot's  film starts out by introducing the main characters -- the artist Mario, his lover, the singer Tosca, and Scarpia, the malevolent secret police official -- by showing (using high-contrast black-and-white) the singers who will be portraying them recording their parts in the studio, accompanied by the Royal Opera House Orchestra of Covent Garden (stirringly lead by Antonio Pappano, whose conducting in these parts of the film is sometimes poetic in its own right). The film then switches to color to show the characters and action unfolding in period costuming and sets. There is method in this: it eliminates our noticing that the performers are acting before the cameras to prerecorded music by directing our attention to it at the beginning, then dismissing it. (Joseph Losey's visually stunning 1979 film of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" was nonetheless emotionally distant, in part because you were aware that the performers were trying not to look as if they were lip-synching their parts.) The sets for the action have an artfully half-constructed look to them, set against a slate-black cast of darkness -- what we might imagine in our heads were we listening to a recording of the opera at home.

The very beautiful Angela Gheorghiu, as Tosca, and Roberto Alagna, as Mario, suggest a loving, gentle, impassioned relationship -- he'll end up being captured, detained, and tortured by Scarpia, and Tosca will end up taking a knife to Scarpia because of it, delivering the "kiss of Tosca" in the meantime. (The depiction of their love also helps gets us through the rather tricky plot devices that arise in the opera's third act -- reminiscent of Victorine Sardou, who wrote the stage melodrama the opera's based on, and his deathless advice as to how to handle stage dramaturgy, "Torture the women! Make them suffer!") Ruggero Raimondi played the Don in Losey's 1979 film, but Losey used Raimondi's looks to emphasize his crepuscular regard for the Don in particular and the opera in general. As Scarpia, Raimondi makes a simply splendid villain -- he brings great shading and nuance to a part that most would be content to giving a standard, mustache-twirling interpretation to. Raimondi's Scarpia is even a little taken-aback by the breath of Tosca's emotion when she expresses jealousy  in response to the suggestion of the possibility of Mario seeing another woman -- Scarpia knew he had it in her, and he wanted to tap into that to trick both Mario and Tosca to his ends, but he's still surprised over how much feeling, and passion, she has, and that, in turn, makes him want to have her for his own all the more so, and it will further drive him towards destroying a love that, we know, to be a true and genuine one between Mario and Tosca.

It is both a musical and dramatic piece that utilizes big emotions and requires a staging that will allow them room to build and flow. Jacquot seems to have kicked-out the walls of this Tosca so as to accommodate an infinite amount of space, whether it be intimate or grand, in the making of this picture. And, along with a remarkable use of color -- there are swirls of reds and golds that are, at times, breathtaking -- the film in turn blooms with a beautiful and powerful surge.

Directed by:
Benoît Jacquot

Angela Gheorghiu
Roberto Alagna
Ruggero Raimondi

NR - Not Rated.
This film has not
yet been rated.






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