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Castaway - Chapter 40

November 4, 2015
Posted at 11:44 am

I honestly wish I were making up the rather dreadful bit of stage business that Lawrence proposes for Scarpia's death scene, but I'm not. I actually saw this performed in a Tosca I attended at the Washington National Opera (not one of the world's top houses, but it still should be better than this, and at the time Placido Domingo was the company's general director).
It's a truly horrible example of a stage director trying overly hard to inject himself (or herself, women do it too) into the creative process of the work he or she is trying to present. The libretto contains rather explicit instruction about what's going on after Tosca stabs Scarpia and he rather gruesomely dies, and the music is clearly written that way. Once the tumult of his death is done, the orchestra subsides into a somewhat reverent tone as she retrieves the pass she's conned him into writing for her from his dead hand, lights candles and sets them around his body, lays a cross on his chest, and composes herself to leave the room. There's no orchestral background for a life-and-death struggle between her and a mortally wounded Scarpia, as Lawrence suggests and as I regrettably saw performed in Washington. This was purely an interpolation by a bad stage director, as I hope I make clear in my story.
My thought at that performance was one of regret that others unfamiliar with the opera had to witness this travesty. That was unfortunately so for my late wife, who attended with me for her first and only viewing of Tosca. She still enjoyed the evening, but to me this put a blight on the experience I'd hoped to offer her.
Oh, and anybody who thinks less of Nick because he stands by while his girlfriend does his fighting for him is invited to consider their respective positions in the operatic world. She's an established star, he's new to the ranks of lead singers. To which of them is Lawrence likely to respond better? She has the chops to get the job done, as she does without raising her voice; as he points out, the only result if he tried to do it himself would likely be an extended screaming match (or worse) to nobody's benefit. Machismo needs to come to a halt where its only result can be destructive.